In This Review

Milosz: A Biography
Milosz: A Biography
By Andrzej Franaszek. Edited and translated by Aleksandra parker and Michael Parker
544 pp, Harvard University Press, 2017

This is the English translation of Franaszek’s fine biography of Czeslaw Milosz, the great Polish poet and 1980 Nobel laureate. Milosz embodied as much as any Pole the spirit, the tortured twentieth-century history, and the artistic sensibility of his country, even though he spent close to 30 years teaching literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Franaszek, with exquisite balance, blends Milosz’s life story with his intellectual and aesthetic journey, enriching both with perfectly chosen fragments from his poetry and other writings. Milosz was born in 1911 to a well-off Lithuanian family, trained as a lawyer, and became a serious poet in his 20s. He lived a peripatetic life, displaced at first by war, later by professional ambition, then briefly by service as a diplomat representing communist Poland, and then by flight to the West—only to return to Poland for the last ten years of his life, which ended in 2004. He was not only, as Joseph Brodsky said, “one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest,” but an intermediary whose translations brought the twentieth-century masters of Polish poetry to international acclaim. In Milosz’s life, so well illustrated by Franaszek, poetry’s confrontation with history converged with the poet’s engagement, sometimes mystical, with humankind’s most basic values.