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«A World Apart» by Gustaw Herling

Translated by Agnieszka Kołakowska


Wlodzimierz Bolecki

Gustaw Herling’s A World Apart is one of the most important books about Soviet camps and communist ideology in the Stalinist period. First published in English in 1951 and translated into many languages, it was relatively unknown till Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in the 1970s. However, the narrative of the author’s experience in the Jertsevo gulag was highly appreciated by Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jorge Semprun and others. In this first monograph on Herling’s fascinating life, Bolecki discusses hitherto unknown documents from the writer’s archive in Naples. His insight into the subject and poetics of Herling’s book and the account of its remarkable reception offer readers an intriguing profile of one of the most compelling witnesses of the 20 th century.
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A World Apart by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński became essential reading in Poland shortly after the political transformations of 1989 and after the abolition of censorship in April 1990. But even when the first official edition (1989) was being prepared for publication in Poland, it was hardly unknown. In a 1981 poll in the monthly Res Publica it was voted among the most important Polish books of the twentieth century, enormously influential in shaping attitudes among the Polish intelligentsia, and throughout the 1980s it was printed and reprinted by a large variety of underground presses. In spite of this, the first official print runs reached several hundred thousand copies, making A World Apart not only one of the most important works of modern Polish literature, but also a bestseller.

The present book, written in 1993 and later expanded, has only one goal: to assist teachers and students in their reading of A World Apart as a work of literature and as historical testimony, with attention to both its literary and historical aspects, as well as to Gustaw Herling-Grudziński’s life, closely bound up as it is with the book’s subject matter.

In view of this aim, I decided, despite the nature of this book, which is that of a mini-monograph, not to include any in-depth editorial, biographical, textual or historical analysis or detailed interpretation, which I shall leave for another occasion. ← 7 | 8 → ← 8 | 9 →

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