Andrzej Bobkowski's fame came late to Poland. He was only forty-eight years old when he died in 1961 in Guatemala, unknown to his native readers outside the diaspora. For obvious, political, reasons they had no access to his literary work, of which Szkice piórkiem [Wartime notebooks]—the diary he kept during World War II in France—is now counted among masterpieces of twentieth-century Polish literature. Published in 1957 by Jerzy Giedroyc's Paris-based monthly Kultura in 1957, Wartime Notebooks, the literary debut of a little-known author, won instant high regard within the Polish emigration circles. Critics and readers of the Kultura praised Bobkowski's luminous prose, his gift of observation, and the unabashed, if for some controversial, political opinions: fiercely anti-communist but also anti-nationalist and in general anti-ideological. On that small patch of unfriendly skies, a star was born.

After a long delay in the arrival of the small-in-size treasure trove of Bobkowski's oeuvre to Poland, his Wartime Notebooks, other journals, collected short stories, and volumes of fascinating letters—exchanged with, apart from family members, almost everybody who was anybody in the centers of the Polish post-war exile—the recognition would be gradual, competing with the deluge of publications of much better-known émigré writers: Czesław Miłosz, Witold Gombrowicz, Jan Lechoń . . . But by the end of the first decade of this century practically all that Bobkowski had written, including most of the letters, would appear in print in his home country, and there emerged a virtual industry of literary and academic commentary about the writer, whose biography seemed no less original than his art. For all his adult life Andrzej Bobkowski had supported himself and his wife Barbara as an industrial worker, albeit an unusual one: in Guatemala he produced and sold flying models. And his literary production, if compared with that of his near contemporary Polish émigré writers, Miłosz, Gombrowicz, Józef Wittlin (to mention the most prominent names), could not fail to strike his new Polish readers as unusual, distinguished by Bobkowski's untempered exuberance, his Dionysian joy of life, his worship of individual freedom held against impositions of collective interest—indeed his truest belief in the pursuit of happiness. Prone to contradictory opinions, but consistent in his anti-communism conjoined with the dismissal of all ideologies, he struck a chord with post-Solidarity Poles, old and young. It continues to be relevant. “Very few of our writers”—Maciej Urbanowski wrote in one of his essays about Bobkowski, collected in the volume Szczęście pod wulkanem [Happiness under the volcano]—“could so tenderly react to the beauty of the world, even at the most despicable time. Or rather despite it being so.”1 Then, few of our twentieth-century writers would provoke as many interpretive quandaries or would allow for contradictions in their world-view professions.

Andrzej Bobkowski's life-long youthful optimism went hand-in-hand with the awareness of historic and existential calamities, his catastrophic vision of Western civilization. His scorn of nationalism, often targeting its Polish version, was paralleled with nostalgia for Poland's beauty and despair over the news of Katyń and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising; the despair in which he felt utterly alone among the egotistic Parisians. His genuine love for France, her culture, countryside, food, and wine, was mixed with contempt concerning the wartime behavior of the French. He could be equally happy and miserable in Guatemala, enthusiastic and sharply critical. (Immigrants among us can relate to such paradoxes.)

The decision to devote a special issue of The Polish Review to Andrzej Bobkowski was prompted by the publication, in 2018, of Wartime Notebooks: France, 1940 − 1944: the superb English language rendition of Wartime Notebooks by Grażyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein. The main challenge we faced as editors of the issue stemmed from the abundance of excellent critical literature on Bobkowski's legacy. Our criteria of choice were twofold: availability of texts created exclusively for The Polish Review and their thematic and methodological range that would include biography and analyses of all the genres—the diary, the short story, drama, and letters—employed by Bobkowski.

We present two biographical studies: Maciej Nowak's meticulously researched curriculum vitae that stresses the influence of Bobkowski's family background on the trajectory of his life and, in turn, reverberates in his work, and Łukasz Marcińczak's enticing essay in which the author asserts Bobkowski's major position in the canon of Polish, and not only Polish, diaristic literature. Next, Christopher Rzonca offers his astute American reader's perspective on Wartime Notebooks, while in her innovative reading of the Notebooks, Alina Molisak concentrates on the Polish, French, and German cultural paradigms in the diary.

Moving to Guatemala, Halina Filipowicz offers a groundbreaking interpretation of Bobkowski's only play, Czarny piasek [Black sand], followed by Paweł Panas's insightful analysis of the Conradian motifs in Bobkowski's Guatemalan short stories. The Guatemalan subject continues in Iwona Kasperska's methodologically rigorous discussion of ethnic stereotypes in Bobkowski's letters. Two previously unpublished letters from the correspondence between Józef Czapski and Andrzej Bobkowski accompany Maciej Urbanowski's elegant article, in which he describes the friendship of the authors (who first met when they were collaborating in postwar Paris at Polskie Biuro Dokumentacji) and compares their diaries.

The comparison of Wartime Notebooks and Witold Gombrowicz's masterpiece Diary is the subject of Krystyna Iłłakowicz's exquisite contribution, no less fascinating for the fact that both authors had lived as exiles in Latin America: Guatemala and Argentina. Jan Zieliński's essay on the “dividing lines” in Bobkowski's literary works can be read, with great pleasure, as a commentary on the preceding articles, whereupon Zieliński stresses the significance of contrasts, descriptive and symbolic, for the author of “Punkt równowagi” [The point of equilibrium]. We end with the starkly divergent articles by the translators of Wartime Notebooks, Grażyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein, without whose magnificent effort this volume would not have come to be.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all the contributors for their creative effort and patience with our editorial queries. My special thanks go to Professor Halina Filipowicz who sustained me throughout this project, and to Dr. Gerard T. Kapolka for his tireless assistance as the co-editor of the special issue.

The manuscript of the original Polish version of Wartime Notebooks, along with Andrzej Bobkowski's personal papers, is held in the archives of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America in New York.



Maciej Urbanowski, Szczęście pod wulkanem: O Andrzeju Bobkowskim (Łomianki: Wydawnictwo LTW, 2013), 168.

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