by Aleksander Wat, foreword by Czeslaw Milosz, translated from the Polish by Richard Lourie
In My Century the great Polish poet Aleksander Wat provides a spellbinding account of life in Eastern Europe in the midst of the terrible twentieth century. Based on interviews with Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, My Century describes the artistic, sexual, and political experimentation—in which Wat was a major participant—that followed the end of World War I: an explosion of talent and ideas which, he argues, in some ways helped to open the door to the destruction that the Nazis and Bolsheviks soon visited upon the world. But Wat’s book is at heart a story of spiritual struggle and conversion. He tells of his separation during World War II from his wife and young son, of his confinement in the Soviet prison system, of the night when the sound of far-off laughter brought on a vision of “the devil in history.” “It was then,” Wat writes, “that I began to be a believer.”
As a document of historical witness, My Century is an extraordinary work. But more than that, it is a masterpiece of autobiography. Wat's voice is irresistible, and he tells his story with such rigor and intelligence, such overpowering human warmth, that one is permanently altered by his words....It would be impossible for me to overstate my admiration for this book. It is a magnificent achievement, one of the most moving and powerful books I have ever read.
— Paul Auster
Illuminating....What Solzhenitsyn did for the camps, Wat has done for the prisons.
— J.M. Cameron, New York Review of Books
I couldn't put it down...one reads it with an excitement only a great novel can elicit....No one has written so well on prison life, to my knowledge, since Dostoevsky.
— Irving Howe
A very remarkable book indeed....There is, at every stage, Aleksander Wat himself, with his keen intelligence, his powerful descriptive gifts and his moral insight....The whole book is an impressive act of witness. It deepens the reader's response to life and lays bare a major tract of history.
— John Gross, The New York Times
Such a fascinating book to read, this spoken memoir by Aleksander Wat!....Aleksander Wat was a poet, and My Century is a work of art....[It] may be read as a spiritual biography of a generation of European intellectuals....I would put it on a shelf in the vicinity of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag, so compelling is its testimony and analysis.
— Jan T. Gross, New York Times Book Review