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Slight Exaggeration

An Essay

Adam Zagajewski; Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Slight Exaggeration Download image

ISBN10: 0374265879
ISBN13: 9780374265878


288 Pages


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For Adam Zagajewski—one of Poland’s great poets—the project of writing, whether it be poetry or prose, is an occasion to advance what David Wojahn has characterized as his “restless and quizzical quest for self-knowledge.” Slight Exaggeration is an autobiographical portrait of the poet, arranged not chronologically but with that same luminous quality that distinguishes Zagajewski’s spellbinding poetry—an affinity for the invisible.

In a mosaic-like blend of criticism, reflections, European history, and aphoristic musings, Zagajewski tells the stories of his life in glimpses and reveries—from the Second World War and the occupation of Poland that left his family dispossessed to Joseph Brodsky’s funeral on the Venetian island of San Michele—interspersed with intellectual interrogations of the writers and poets (D. H. Lawrence, Giorgos Seferis, Zbigniew Herbert, Paul Valéry), composers and painters (Brahms, Rembrandt), and modern heroes (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke) who have influenced his work.

A wry and philosophical defense of mystery, Slight Exaggeration recalls Zagajewski’s poetry in its delicate negotiation between the earthbound and the ethereal, “between brief explosions of meaning and patient wandering through the plains of ordinary days.” With an enduring inclination to marvel, Zagajewski restores the world to us—necessarily incomplete and utterly astonishing.


Praise for Slight Exaggeration

"In this book-length sequence of fragments and miniature essays, the renowned Polish poet combines stories from his life with reflections on music, literature, and twentieth-century Europe’s 'black hole of war.' Displaced at an early age by shifting borders (he was born in 1945, in Lwów, which became part of the Soviet Union in 1946), Zagajewski wrestles with the burden of history borne by the writer, who must 'experience rapture and recollect horror simultaneously.' Neither naïve nor cynical, Zagajewski concludes, convincingly, that writing is 'completely impossible'—and yet it must emerge 'from reality, from a dimension that seldom reveals itself.'"—The New Yorker

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Slight Exaggeration

I won’t tell all regardless. Since nothing much is happening anyway. I represent, moreover, the Eastern European school of discretion; we don’t discuss divorces, we don’t acknowledge depressions. Life...

About the author

Adam Zagajewski; Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov in 1945. His previous books include Tremor; Canvas; Mysticism for Beginners; Without End; Solidarity, Solitude; Two Cities; Another Beauty; A Defense of Ardor; Eternal Enemies; and Unseen Hand—all published by FSG. He lives in Chicago and Kraków.

Clare Cavanagh is a professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Northwestern University. Her most recent book, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics, received the National Book Critics' Circle Award for criticism. She has also translated the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska.

Jerry Bauer

Adam Zagajewski

Poetry Foundation Profile

New York Times Obituary