Sunday, January 28, 2007
book of books - Street of Crocodiles
Bruno Schulz is capable along with Kafka of creating images that have the power to really disturb but also challenge your thinking. When perception warps the reader themselves is invited to make a judgement about what is normal. In the case of Schulz the figure of the father is at the centre of the strangeness in nearly all cases ranging from arguing that shop dummies should be treated as human beings, to rigging a relative up as a front door bell to becoming a cockroach.
Schulz wrote these stories by letter in instalments to a friend and once you understand that the sometimes disjointed way they exist chapter by chapter makes sense. It broadly follows the story of Schulz’s family with his mother and father owning a textile shop but the father steps back from the business and starts to get obsessed with various things including breeding birds, defending the rights of mannequins, imitating cockroaches and delving into electronics. But the unusual also happens to Bruno who ends up travelling across the City in a driverless cab and then apologising to the horse who is able to speak. If there is any type of plot it seems to be about the pains of growing up in a dysfunctional family and how people react when family members start to act in unnatural ways.
Is it well written?
It is slightly disjointed because of the way it was composed and sometimes the result is that passages that you expect to develop run their course quite quickly. But on the flip side it works as a collection of moments that have an ability to work as a story in that the central voice is always the same and the character of the father keeps provoking fresh things to discuss. There are clear influences from Kafka and there are moments when the City changes and becomes an alien place with streets changing that reminds you of moments in The Trial.
Should it be read?
Schulz is a Polish writer that has quite a fan base on the web and since his works were published and translated into English he is someone that deserves to be read. Not just because he comes to things with a different East European perspective but also because he shows that it is possible to write about what you know best, your family, and still use it to make a novel that is capable of standing the test of time and provoking a reader response.
Street of Crocodiles should be read by those enjoying Franz Kafka and those keen on books that put life through a warped mirror of imagination on the border of sanity and insanity.
Version read – Penguin twentieth century classics paperback