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the Complete Review
the complete review - auto/biographical / poetry


Mother Departs

Tadeusz Różewicz

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To purchase Mother Departs

Title: Mother Departs
Author: Tadeusz Różewicz
Genre: various
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Mother Departs - US
Mother Departs - UK
Mother Departs - Canada
Mother Departs - India
Mutter geht - Deutschland
  • Polish title: Matka odchodzi
  • Translated by Barbara Bogoczek
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Tony Howard

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a creative testament

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allg. Zeitung . 23/12/2010 Marta Kijowska
The Independent A 31/5/2013 James Hopkin
NZZ . 21/4/2010 Gerhard Gnauck

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mother Departs also champions Rózewicz's aesthetic of assembled voices. (...) These fragments are simply, poetically, put together. The cumulative effect is astonishing. (...) Barbara Bogoczek's translation is excellent, as is Tony Howard's informative introduction. This is a book for anyone who has ever had a mother." - James Hopkin, The Independent

  • "Hier dominiert nicht die Erfahrung von Krieg und Leere wie in seinen Gedichten, auch nicht das Thema der Beziehungs- oder schlicht Lebensunfähigkeit des beschädigten Menschen wie in seinen Dramen. Hier geht es um eine Beziehung voller Vertrautheit, Nähe und Glück, wenngleich am Ende Alter und Leid stehen." - Gerhard Gnauck, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Mother Departs is an homage to poet Tadeusz Różewicz's mother; though she already passed away in 1957, Różewicz only put this work together towards the end of the century. First published in 1999, it won the leading Polish literary prize, the NIKE (awarded for a book in any genre) in 2000.
       Mother Departs is not a simple memoir or collection of reminiscences. Instead, Różewicz collects and contrasts a variety of material. There are poems and diary excerpts of his, but also sections written by his mother -- about her childhood, for example, or Tadeusz's birth --, as well as writings by Tadeusz's two brothers. It is a century-spanning work -- Stefania, the mother was born in 1896, and there are parts of the work from all through the twentieth century.
       It makes for an interesting Polish family panorama, and offers both amusing family titbits (such as that the author was apparently named Tadeusz after Polish hero Tadeusz Kościuszko -- at the behest of his older brother) as well as more grim observations, from Stefania's hospital-decline to the death of the oldest sibling at the hands of the Gestapo in 1944 ("We do not tell mum, we tell her tales about all the different situations in the underground when you have to disappear for a long while") the youngest brother recalls about when Janusz is imprisoned). Tadeusz doesn't just give the other family members a voice, he allows them to speak for themselves -- carefully selecting the pieces for the family-mosaic, but nevertheless.
       It's an effective collection, switching from personal reminiscence to the immediacy of diary-entries (poignantly, too, Różewicz includes a photograph of his 1957 calendar noting his mother's death) to the re-working of some of the material in his poems. From Stefania's vivid description of the incredible poverty of the Poland she grew up in to Różewicz's own meditations as his mother lies dying (ranging also to such thoughts as: "What kind of action is the writing of poetry ? What is it ?"), it's quite a rich and revealing work.
       There's also some excellent poetry in it -- including, for example, the final verses of the poignant 'the photograph':

in the year 1944
the Gestapo murdered
my older brother

we concealed his death
from mother

but she saw through us
and concealed it
from us
       Mother Departs isn't a neat, carefully-formed hagiography; rather it is, as the time between Stefania's death and its publication already suggests, an extended act of letting-go -- and one that Różewicz doesn't reserve just for himself, but in which he also includes the other family members (including the longer-lived father, with whom the relationship was apparently more complex). Różewicz admits: "I'm a lousy writer -- a hopeless observer ..." (noting that: "When I say 'writer' I mean the prose, poetry's a different story"), but given his limitations he has found the proper approach (which includes allowing much of the writing to be done by others).
       The collection has a fragmentary feel -- much ends (and some begins) with ellipses, to underline that fact -- and readers might wish for more filling in the blanks in this century-spanning work, but there's a satisfying wholeness to the text as is.
       A touching, often fascinating -- and very personal -- work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2013

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Mother Departs: Reviews: Tadeusz Różewicz: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish poet Tadeusz Różewicz was born in 1921.

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© 2013 the complete review

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