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C hapt e r T w o Wrocław, Obory, Rose Island Igor Newerly arranged a three-month stipend for me from the Polish Writers’ Union. Since I had no place to live in Warsaw, I left for Wrocław. Newerly helped me a lot. Back then, he was at the height of his success. His novel A Souvenir from Cellulose was regarded as a masterpiece . There wasn’t a week he wasn’t being written about; people walked up to him on their hind legs; dozens came to visit him, and he had almost no time for writing. But Newerly never got too big for his britches. He was modest and couldn’t stand flatterers. I remember, when I told him I liked his book better than Gorky’s The Life of Matvei Kozhemiakin, Newerly bristled. It was unpleasant for him. Finally he said, “I’d like for my book to survive just one five-year plan, that’s all.” I know he was being sincere. Cellulose is an excellent book, and I’ve read it many times. I don’t know why Newerly wrote so little. The last time I saw him was twelve years ago, when he severed ties with me. I had behaved unbearably, and he finally lost patience. It seemed to me that everybody was losing patience. On the other hand, I gained a lot of other things. It’s like that story about two Jews who went into business together. One of them had money; the other, experience. After some time, the first one gained experience; the other, money. Newerly would sometimes tell me about himself. He was a character straight out of the pages of London’s stories. He’d had dozens Beautiful Twentysomethings 22 of jobs. At one point he’d been Janusz Korczak’s secretary. He always told me, during every conversation, that the most dangerous thing for me in my situation would be to arrive too early at being a professional writer. “You should stay up nights reading the books you simply have to read, but which you haven’t yet. And you’ll learn many things necessary for writing, sooner than you think. Other people will help you. But, by God, don’t make it a career. That you can do when you’re around forty. Look at all these young people. Ask them how much a kilo of sugar costs. None of them can tell you. Sure, they know that concrete is a construction material, but they learned it from books. In general, write as little as possible. Do whatever you want, but please, write as little as possible.” I returned from Wrocław to Warsaw a year later and told Newerly about an idea I had. He looked at me and said, “You’re a sick man.” I don’t know if Newerly remembers our conversation. I remember. So I went to Wrocław, where I lived with my uncle. I had a threemonth stipend and a little money I’d gotten from Sztandar Młodych for my story “Sokolowski Depot.” It was a beautiful time: I was finally alone; I could read, write, go to the theater, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do first. When I’d start writing, I’d think I was supposed to be reading, because it would help me to write. When I was reading, I’d tear myself away and run around the city, because it seemed I needed to observe people. I would talk with people and then again it would seem I was wasting time on conversation, and that I needed to be writing. “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “I’ll lose my mind.” One day I’d read Bohdan “Teddy Bear” Czeszko; the next, Balzac. Then I’d wrench myself away from Dostoevsky to read the Linde dictionary . At night I’d go out and look for my alcoholic uncle, and again I’d come back to my books. I don’t know how many books I read that year in Wrocław. Several hundred, I imagine. And with each day, I knew less. With each day, I despaired more and more that I’d never read what it was I needed to. Finally, somebody gave me Gombrowicz , and after that I came completely unhinged. It’s not true, what Gombrowicz writes about himself in one of his Diaries, that his writing was appreciated too late. There was some connection with an article Sandauer...


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