The protagonist of this tense, imaginative novel is a rat who narrates his life story from birth to death. The enterprising rodent roams alleys and garbage dumps, lives in a bakery cellar, hops a train to a coastal town, boards a ship and lands in a besieged city at war, where missiles explode; later, he meets a cruel fate at the hands of humans. His is a life of constant fear, hunting and foraging, beset by dangers--cats, traps, cars, other rats and, above all, people, ``our greatest enemies.'' In relating this saga of struggles and wanderings, Polish poet and teacher Zaniewski aims to enlist sympathy for rats and to expose human arrogance and cruelty, especially toward animals. None of the rodent or human characters have names but, for the most part, monotony is avoided as the author casts his rats as sentient, complex, emotional beings without seeming to anthropomorphize them. Zaniewski brings uncanny insight, empathy and respect for all animals--rodent and human--to this literate, strangely appealing fable. 25,000 first printing. (Sept.)
A rat is born and survives his early youth, unlike some of his weaker brothers and sisters. As the rat grows, he strays from the nest and follows an older rat, learning the ways of the street. Upon his return, he impregnates his mother and another female rat, slums for food, and narrowly escapes feline and human predators. He then travels on trains and ships, explores cities, and tells rat vignettes (recalling, for instance, the time he uncovered a litter of baby mice and tore them all in half). He also has poetic thoughts: "Time passes imperceptibly, like the black streams of sewage and refuse." Zaniewski's novel braves the many possibilities of embarrassment in such a narrative exercise and largely succeeds in creating a compelling rat's-eye view of life. If you want to become an animal for a brief time, read this brief novel. Recommended for general readers.-Brian Geary, West Seneca, N.Y.