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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical / interview

A Kind of Testament

Witold Gombrowicz

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Kind of Testament

Title: A Kind of Testament
Author: Witold Gombrowicz
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1968 (Eng. 1973)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: French/Polish
Availability: A Kind of Testament - US
A Kind of Testament - UK
A Kind of Testament - Canada
Testament - Canada
Testament - France
Eine Art Testament - Deutschland
  • Originally published in French (1968) as Entretiens avec Gombrowicz (by Dominique de Roux), with translations from the Polish by Koukou Chanska and François Marié
  • Edited by Dominique de Roux
  • Translated by Alastair Hamilton
  • Introduction by Maurice Nadeau

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable and informative companion-piece to his works -- but doesn't stand very firmly on its own

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 27/7/1996 .
The NY Sun . 7/11/2007 Benjamin Lytal

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gewiß ist es informativ, hier authentische Interpretation seiner Texte zu lesen, ein Brevier in eigener Sache. Gewiß besticht die grandseigneurale und zugleich anarchistische Haltung des polnischen Edelmanns auf Abwegen. Zudem freuen wir uns über einige Bonmots und originelle Gedanken, denn an Intelligenz und Bosheit hat es diesem Schriftsteller nie gemangelt. Allein, wir werden nicht in den Sog des Dialogs gezogen." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It has in common with the major work the benefit of Gombrowicz's frankness, the same perverse objectivity that leads him, in the past tense, to examine his own immaturity, and, in the future tense, to admit his own desire for greatness." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

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:

       A Kind of Testament was originally published in the French as an Entretiens avec Gombrowicz, a conversation or interview with Dominique de Roux, but in the English version there's barely a hint left that any part of what Gombrowicz relates here was elicited in conversation. (It's unclear to us whether the original French edition differs in its presentation; the greater page-number suggest it may well.) Certainly what's left is more testament than dialogue, and if not quite all Gombrowicz -- a firm hand clearly guided the conversation and then put together this material, and especially in the last chapter the last subjects to be ticked off obviously come from that outsider -- his voice comes through loud and clear.
       The short chapters are devoted to biographical background -- his family background, adapting to Argentina (or rather: 'the Argentine', as he calls it here) -- as well as to his individual works, each subject dealt with quickly but often fairly completely in its own chapter, without too much overlap. It makes the volume a useful reference work and companion piece to Gombrowicz's works.
       A Kind of Testament doesn't offer detailed (auto)biography, but gives a good sense of the man and his circumstances. Some of what he says is surprising, such as about leaving for Argentina a month before World War II broke out -- stunning timing, and all the more stunning because of his claim that it was: "chance alone (chance ?) that I didn't remain in Poland."
       He doesn't have to go on at great length to convey the ups and downs in his life -- no need to describe his years working for a Polish bank in Argentina, for example --, in large part because of an admirable directness in his answers and explanations. And it only takes a few pages about his family to understand completely where he gets much of it (i.e. his character and approach to life and writing) from, as when he lovingly describes his mother "lazy and bereft of any practical sense", and quotes her:

     'In my spare moments I like to read Spencer and Fichte', she would say in all sincerity, although the works of these philosophers occupied the lower shelves of the library, their uncut pages gleaming.
       There are any number of interesting insights into his work and how he saw it, from his sense that: "it was easier to write a 'great' work than simply a 'good' work" to his ideas about sincerity ("As a writer it is what I fear most. In literature sincerity leads nowhere.") and morality (which is one of the few things he goes on about at some length). He concludes, for example:
     And the morality of writing is ultimately summed up in one of the most elementary maxims, a maxim so elementary that it is almost embarrassing to formulate it: write in such a way that your reader will see you as an honest man. No more. Just that.
       Interesting also his take-down of the nouveau roman -- although that has to be swallowed with care, as he prefaces his criticism by saying: "But though I have not read these books I shall tell you what I don't like about them." But then he easily wins the reader over again with his terrific lament:
Where are the good old days, when Rabelais wrote as a child might pee against a tree, to relieve himself ?
       A Kind of Testament is a very mixed bag -- a better interview, but oddly missing that interviewer's voice (but not his hand), not quite a memoir (yes, just kind of a testament). Still, it's hard to pass up -- and not find quite a bit that impresses and entertains -- for anyone who has read more than a book or two by Gombrowicz.

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A Kind of Testament: Reviews: Witold Gombrowicz: Other books by Witold Gombrowicz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) spent much of his life in exile in Argentina. One of the major writers of this century, he has not received the attention he deserves, due in large part to his difficult and bizarre publishing history, largely a result of his exile. His Polish books, written in Argentina, are first published in Paris ... and so on.

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© 2007-2009 the complete review

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