cover image Another Beauty

Another Beauty

Adam Zagajewski. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-374-17652-5

The life of Eastern European communist dissidents, workers and intellectuals may already seem like ancient history to a younger generation speeding into the 21st century. But there's still a lot to be learned by listening to the voices of those who grew to maturity in communist Europe. One of the most eloquent among those voices is Zagajewski (Canvas, etc.), a major contemporary Polish poet. He offers a memoir suffused with the atmosphere of Poland in the 1960s and '70s, when he was a student and fledgling writer in Krakow. More like a series of poetic fragments than a continuous prose narrative, the various sections of the memoir include melancholy and tender tributes to the city of Krakow (""It was a matter of pride,"" he writes ""to belong to such a city""); memories of the pre-communist world the city harkened back to; his study of philosophy and psychology, stunted by ideological restrictions at a communist-run university; and his membership in the emerging opposition movement. These stories are mixed with philosophical ruminations on various pieces of classical music, life's ""wholeness,"" the nature of poetry, and literary and cultural figures of the period. Given that few readers will be familiar with these figures, however, this edition would have benefited from footnotes and biographical information. Subtle and intellectual (perhaps a bit too much so at times), Zagajewski's memoir will find its largest audience among readers who are already familiar with his Polish setting. (Aug.)