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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Vanishing Lung Syndrome

Miroslav Holub

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To purchase Vanishing Lung Syndrome

Title: Vanishing Lung Syndrome
Author: Miroslav Holub
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1989
Length: 68 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Vanishing Lung Syndrome - US
Vanishing Lung Syndrome - UK
Vanishing Lung Syndrome - Canada
  • Translated by Dana Hábová and David Young

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Our Assessment:

A : an excellent collection of Holub's varied poetry

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 10/5/1990 Carol Ann Duffy
New Statesman A+ 4/5/1990 Erik Svarny
Parnassus A (1993) Bill Marx
TLS . 4/5/1990 Oliver Reynolds
World Lit. Today . Spring/1991 Mari Nemcova Banerjee

  From the Reviews:
  • "The poems of Vanishing Lung Syndrome are a breathtaking exemplification of Holub's ability to unite seemingly disparate fields of endeavour." - Erik Svarny, New Statesman & Society

  • "Continually searching for fresh perspectives, Holub's vision is marked with unflagging invention and resistance, along with a generous tolerance for doubt. The words he's breeding out in his inky petri dish may be novelties of discovery or empty delusions." - Bill Marx, Parnasus

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:

       The first poem, 1751, gives a good sense of where Holub is coming from and what he is getting at. 1751 is both the year that Diderot began publishing his Encyclopaedia and the first insane asylum was founded in London. As a consequence, Holub believes, "Poets had to learn tightrope-walking." They walk those tightropes still, and Holub does so far better than most.
       A number of the poems ask outright what poetry is or can do or is for. Holub is no romantic -- he values poetry, but he suggests it is tenuous, volatile, balanced on a tightrope. Throughout his oeuvre there is a striving to reach as far as he can (and incorporate as much as he can) in his verse. Science and history are his twin bedrocks, the foundation of almost all his verse: man is small compared to either, buffeted by their overwhelming forces.
       Written while Czechoslovakia was still under communist/socialist (mis)rule, many of the poems are also overtly political. A sequence of poems describes various medical syndromes, including that of the collection's title. Holub also comments on events of the day in such poems as Wenceslas Square Syndrome. He is more successful with his dark criticism in a poem such as Kuru, or the Smiling Death Syndrome, roughly condemning the inaction of his fellow citizens:

We aren't the Fores of New Guinea
we don't indulge in ritual cannibalism
we don't harbour the slow virus that
causes degeneration
of the brain and spinal cord with spasms, shivers,
progressive dementia and
the typical grimace

We just smile,
embarrassed, we smile,
embarrassed, we smile,
embarrassed, we smile.

       What perhaps still hits too close to home will surely eventually stand as a classical poetic commentary on socialist society as it existed in Eastern Europe after World War II
       Holub's rich and evocative imagery, whether it is Californian freeways, traffic on them circulating like blood, or his historical recreations, make for entertaining and enjoyable reading. Thoughtful, wise, and intelligent -- and a true poet -- Holub deserves to be widely read. This exemplary collection is an excellent introduction to his talents.
       Highly recommended.

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Vanishing Lung Syndrome: Miroslav Holub: Other books by Miroslav Holub under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       Czech poet and scientist Miroslav Holub (1923-1998) was one of the major Eastern European poets of the post-war period. He earned both an M.D. and a Ph.D. and was a noted immunologist with more than 150 academic papers to his name. Much of his poetry has been translated into English.

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