Streets of Not Rage

Exhibit 1.1.14

The Street of Crocodiles

Bruno Schulz’s book has been recommended to me innumerable times over the years, so I’m glad I finally had an excuse to pick it up. I probably shouldn’t have needed one, but it’s one of those books that was championed by so many different people with so many different aesthetics that I couldn’t help but not read it. Not on purpose, really, just that I could never quite find the right mental bookshelf for it when some would say the writing was beautiful, others would say it was my kind of strange, and still others would talk about the characters or the history. This problem comes up for a lot of us, I imagine. Before reading a book or seeing a movie we want to pre-understand it, at least to some degree. Or, maybe, we’d just as soon go in blind but that’s rarely an option. Even if we know nothing about the work other than the person telling us about it–or the website where we hear of it, or the company that’s put it out–that’s still enough of a clue to make us ask Well, what’s it about? This we ask because we already think we have some idea of what it is.

With The Street of Crocodiles, I’d gotten enough mixed messages that at some point not thinking about it was easier than thinking about it, at least until I actually read it. So I read it. Now I think I understand why it was always presented to me in so many diverse ways. It really is that wide a book–a fantastic childhood remembrance, a beautifully rendered physical world, a mythical reconstruction of a father figure. I honestly can’t think of any English language equivalent, certainly not one from 1934. The best I can do is to ask you to imagine Borges and Thomas Wolfe got together and wrote a short story collection that’s also maybe a novel. There, I hope that’s clear.

The attraction for me is really the father. The book is told through the son’s eyes, but he’s really the string keeping it grounded in some sort of nostalgic realism. Whenever there’s a description of spices or relatives or the streets in this small Polish town–and there are, a lot–it’s him. But the father–he of the bird marriages and campaign for tailor dummies’ rights–is where the book is most alive for me. Yes, I suppose it’s my kind of strange, but anyone who recommended it for other reasons wouldn’t have been wrong either. The translation is quite beautiful and there’s something compelling about this town whether or not anything absurd is happening. It’s realistic and it’s magical. It’s lush and it’s metaphysical. It’s sweet and it’s sad–made even more so by the course of history generally and Shulz’s life story specifically–and, I don’t know, I recommend it.

Bonus: Apparently the titular story was adapted into what, I gather, is a somewhat famous stop-motion film. I haven’t watched it yet, but I think I’ll do that…now:

Comment / Posted in Brunos, Fiction, Streets of Not Rage