Hospital of the Transfiguration

Stanislaw Lem, Author, William Brand, Translator
Stanislaw Lem, Author, William Brand, Translator Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $17.95 (207p) ISBN 978-0-15-142186-2
Reviewed on: 10/01/1988
Release date: 10/01/1988
This first novel by the prolific science fiction author and essayist was completed in 1948, but wasn't published in Poland until 1975, after Lem's reputation was well established. Appearing in English for the first time, this is very much the work of a brash writer finding his way. As Poland falls to the Nazis during WW II in 1939, Stefan Trzyniecki, a young doctor, finds employment at a provincial insane asylum. He has been lured there by a fellow medical student who promises, ``It's like being outside the Occupation, in fact it's even like being outside the world!'' Stefan hopes that the asylum will be ``a kind of extraterrestrial observatory'' with ``a delicious solitude in which a man naturally endowed with a fine intellect could develop in peace.'' But the insanity of the outside world soon intrudes on the madness within. While corrupt and callous doctors perpetrate hideous abuses on mental patients, the Nazis are capturing Polish resistance fighters nearby. When the Nazis move to liquidate the asylum and turn it into an SS hospital, betrayals abound; Stefan survives, but he has been transformed. Lem, who attended medical school in Poland, evokes the monstrosities of an archaic mental institution with the knife-edged clarity of bitterness. The ironies of Stefan's existence, which are echoed in many ways in Kundera's recent The Unbearable Lightness of Being , reveal much about how the author found his voice. (October)
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