A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising

Miron Bialoszewski (Author) Madeline G Levine (Translator)
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On August 1, 1944, Miron Bialoszewski, later to gain renown as one of Poland's most innovative poets, went out to run an errand for his mother and ran into history. With Soviet forces on the outskirts of Warsaw, the Polish capital revolted against five years of Nazi occupation, an uprising that began in a spirit of heroic optimism. Sixty-three days later it came to a tragic end. The Nazis suppressed the insurgents ruthlessly, reducing Warsaw to rubble while slaughtering some 200,000 people, mostly through mass executions. The Red Army simply looked on.

Bialoszewski's blow-by-blow account of the uprising brings it alive in all its desperate urgency. Here we are in the shoes of a young man slipping back and forth under German fire, dodging sniper bullets, collapsing with exhaustion, rescuing the wounded, burying the dead. An indispensable and unforgettable act of witness, A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising is also a major work of literature. Bialoszewski writes in short, stabbing, splintered, breathless sentences attuned to "the glaring identity of 'now.'" His pages are full of a white-knuckled poetry that resists the very destruction it records.

Madeline G. Levine has extensively revised her 1977 translation, and passages that were unpublishable in Communist Poland have been restored.

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
October 27, 2015
5.0 X 0.6 X 8.0 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Miron Bialoszewski (1922-1983) was born in Warsaw, the son of a postal clerk. During the German occupation of Poland in World War II, he studied Polish literature in an underground school, though he never obtained any kind of degree. Not a combatant, he was deported to a German work camp following the Warsaw Uprising, escaped after a month and, as the war drew to its end, returned to his devastated city. Bialoszewski worked as a journalist, writing poetry at night, though it was not until 1956 that his first volume of poetry, Obroty rzeczy (The Revolution of Things), appeared to great acclaim. Additional volumes of poetry and short prose texts followed, while Bialoszewski also wrote plays for and acted with the collaborative and experimental Tarczyńska Street Theater. A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising came out in 1970.

Madeline G. Levine
is Kenan Professor of Slavic Literatures Emerita at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her translations from the Polish include The Woman from Hamburg and Other True Stories by Hanna Krall, Bread for the Departed by Bogdan Wojdowski, four volumes of prose by Czeslaw Milosz including Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections and Milosz's ABC's, and a new English version of the collected stories of Bruno Schulz (forthcoming).


"Probably the finest book about the insurrection of 1944. . . . Bialoszewski's book was about the city and its people; in the course of his narration, the two become interchangeable." --John Carpenter

"A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising is a faithful, antiheroic, and nonpathetic description of disintegration: bombed houses, whole streets, human bodies disintegrate, as do objects of everyday use and human perceptions of the world." --Czeslaw Milosz

"In a country in which writers were supposed to uphold the moral conscience, Bialoszewski was the opposite, a champion of insignificance...When the moment came, he filled page after page with details about life amid the rubble -- about what it was like to pick dust and debris out of one's soup, to visit a barber, to attend a Chopin concert with guns and bombs going off all around, or to use a latrine..." --Daniel Lazare, Jacobin

"A master of grammatical games, puns, and colloquial speech patterns, this dark-minded, philosophically inclined scrutinizer of the humblest objects of daily life is enjoying more popularity and critical attention a quarter century after his death than during his lifetime. Outside of Poland, he remains best known for his Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising." --The Iowa Review

"Bialoszewski very quickly emerged, surfaced for me as the most exciting and most intriguing Polish writer of what now would be the second half of the century." --Chicago Review

"Bialoszewski demonstrates that each loss also offers a new way of seeing and something new to see, even if what comes into view is only a 'grey naked hole.' He manages to generate a new form from absence and emptiness as the 'greynakedhole' takes on a life of its own. Seen this way, the world's inescapable losses generate not only pain, but also creative possibility and even perhaps 'inexhaustible joy.' " --Clare Cavanaugh, Partisan Review

"This most 'private' author of postwar Polish literature disregards discourses of history so deeply embedded in the Polish literary tradition; rather he focuses on the mundane aspects of the everyday life, usually from an autobiographical perspective and using an overtly colloquial language. Although Bialoszewski's works have stirred many discussions, most of these have focused on his treatment of genres and language." --Joanna Nizynska, professor of Polish, Harvard University

"Poems of Miron Bialoszewski is the book I hope to one day hold in my hands. A great post-war Polish poet, Bialoszewski wrote work radically different from that of his contemporaries--Milosz, Świr, Kamieńska, Herbert, and Szymborska--but his poetry was just as powerful and important to the development of the contemporary European lyric.... When I mentioned [him] to Tomaž Salamun in a recent conversation, Tomaž's face lit up: 'Bialoszewski, when he is translated and available in English, will cause an explosion in American poetry!' One hopes so." --Ilya Kaminsky, poetry editor, Words Without Borders