Overview

In My Century the great Polish poet Aleksander Wat provides a spellbinding account of life in Eastern Europe in the midst of the terrible twentieth century. Based on interviews with Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, My Century describes the artistic, sexual, and political experimentation—in which Wat was a major participant—that followed the end of World War I: an explosion of talent and ideas which, he argues, in some ways helped to open the door to the destruction that the Nazis and Bolsheviks soon visited ...
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My Century

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Overview

In My Century the great Polish poet Aleksander Wat provides a spellbinding account of life in Eastern Europe in the midst of the terrible twentieth century. Based on interviews with Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, My Century describes the artistic, sexual, and political experimentation—in which Wat was a major participant—that followed the end of World War I: an explosion of talent and ideas which, he argues, in some ways helped to open the door to the destruction that the Nazis and Bolsheviks soon visited upon the world. But Wat’s book is at heart a story of spiritual struggle and conversion. He tells of his separation during World War II from his wife and young son, of his confinement in the Soviet prison system, of the night when the sound of far-off laughter brought on a vision of “the devil in history.” “It was then,” Wat writes, “that I began to be a believer.”
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Meet the Author

Aleksander Wat (1900-1967), the nom de plume of Aleksander Chwat, was born in Warsaw, the descendant of an old and distinguished Jewish family which counted among its members the great sixteenth-century cabalist Isaac Luria. He attended Warsaw University, where he studied philosophy, psychology, and logic, and formed strong ties with the literary avant-garde, publishing a first book of poems, Me from One Side and Me from the Other Side of My Pug Iron Stove, in 1920 and, some years later, a collection of stories entitled Lucifer Unemployed. Wat edited a variety of influential journals and helped to disseminate the work of Mayakovsky and the futurists in Poland, before forming an allegiance with the Communist Party and confining his writing to journalism. In 1939 he fled east before the advancing German army and was separated from his wife and young son. The family reunited in Lwów, then under Soviet control, where Wat found work on a newspaper, only to be placed under arrest. Imprisoned in the Soviet Union for the better part of two years, during which time he converted from Judaism to Christianity, Wat again rejoined his family, who had been exiled to Kazakhstan, in 1942. They returned after the war to Poland, where Wat began to write poetry again while serving as editor of the state publishing house. In 1963, he left his native country for France. Wat was invited in 1964 to the University of California, Berkeley, where he taped a series of conversations about his life and times with his countryman the poet Czeslaw Milosz. Edited by Milosz, these were published posthumously as My Century.

Czeslaw Milosz was born in Lithuania in 1911. Over the course of his long and prolific career he published works in many genres, including criticism (The Captive Mind), fiction (The Issa Valley), memoir (Native Realm), and poetry (New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001). He was a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. He died in 2004.
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