Col­lect­ed Stories

Bruno Schulz (auth.), Riv­ka Galchen (fore­ward)

  • Review
By – November 18, 2019

In 1942, Bruno Schulz, a gift­ed writer, artist, teacher, and thinker, was shot dead on the street at fifty-years-old while car­ry­ing a loaf of bread. He was shot by a Nazi named Karl Gun­ther in Dro­hobych, a small town and shtetl in the Aus­tri­an-Hun­gar­i­an province of Gali­cia. Despite his short­ened life, he has not by any stretch gone unno­ticed, acknowl­edged by lit­er­ary greats and even com­pared to writ­ers like Kaf­ka and Salman Rushdie.

His short oeu­vre, Cin­na­mon Shops,” reti­tled Street of Croc­o­diles,” was final­ly pub­lished in 1934. In the ini­tial, rather qui­et­ly, intro­duced sto­ry of Cin­na­mon Shops” enti­tled August,” we are intro­duced briefly to the father, a fig­ure who will con­tin­ue to appear,vanish, and reap­pear through­out his collection.

In A Vis­i­ta­tion,” his father is seen slow­ly dis­ap­pear­ing, with­er­ing before our eyes…and when he would appear after many days..this did not hold our atten­tion for long.”

Much fur­ther along in the col­lec­tion in, The San­i­tar­i­um under the Hour­glass,” his son makes a long jour­ney in a san­i­tar­i­um to vis­it his father. He’s told by the doc­tor, you know as well as I.…your father died.” He coun­ters, But Father does not know, does not guess.”

Ear­ly on, Schulz writes in the first per­son as a young boy, like in Nim­rod’ where he describes play­ing with a splen­did lit­tle pup­py.” He then writes as his old­er self and con­tin­ues the major recur­ring thread of search­ing for his parents.

We are quick­ly over­tak­en by the way Schulz sees the inan­i­mate world as a part of our real one, with giant over­pow­er­ing insects, fan­ta­sy, and dread: beds miss­ing a leg,.… light­ning flash­es of glis­ten­ing horse­flies… dement­ed weeds… evil silence.”

As Schulz often address­es us as Dear Read­er,” he reminds us of the pas­sage of time, a theme he returns to again and again with unre­lent­ing beau­ty and sen­su­al­i­ty. It will also con­tin­ue to emerge in the des­ig­na­tion of sea­sons, as in Spring,” A Sec­ond Autumn,” The Dead Sea­son” and then under Oth­er Sto­ries” again, Autumn.”: For­got­ten by the great day, all the herbs, flow­ers, and weeds mul­ti­plied lux­u­ri­ous­ly and silent­ly glad­dened by this pause that they could sleep through out­side the mar­gin of time…”

The Street Of Croc­o­diles” is often list­ed as the sig­na­ture piece of Schulz’s short pub­lished col­lec­tion, and is so plea­sur­able to read aloud. It’s as if Schulz indulges him­self, almost play­ful­ly, so that the lis­ten­er can almost hear the crunch of his pen as he smiles, hap­pi­ly scrawling.

One of the major themes that char­ac­ter­izes a major strug­gle for Schulz, is that of a book. The first sto­ry in The San­i­tar­i­um Under the Hour­glass” titled, The Book,” mer­its a close read­ing in its depar­ture from the more freak­ish char­ac­ters, like the tai­lor’s dum­mies, pet birds and hurled cham­ber pots. Here, we see the narrator’s fas­ci­na­tion with his father’s books, and ulti­mate­ly find­ing the Book” after much search­ing reveals the spir­i­tu­al, often ignored con­flicts long-buried by Schulz’s assim­i­lat­ed Jew­ish ancestry

Iron­i­cal­ly, for all of Schulz’s for­mer dis­tanc­ing from the canons of Jew­ish ortho­doxy, it has been observed by oth­ers that Schulz’s mys­ti­cal, demon­ic ani­mal­is­tic rhetoric is some­what like a tal­mu­dic text on the page, beg­ging for expli­ca­tion, encir­cled by argu­ments and com­men­taries from rab­bis and schol­ars over hun­dreds of years!

Ruth Seif is a retired chair­per­son of Eng­lish at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School in NYC. She served as admin­is­tra­tor in the alter­na­tive high school division.

Discussion Questions