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Madame (Libera)

Madame
Antoni Libera, 1998 (trans., Agnieszka Kolakowska, 2000)
Canaongate Books
438 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781841955209

Summary
The comic "sentimental education" of a schoolboy who falls in love with his French teacher.

Madame is an unexpected gem: a novel about Poland during the grim years of Soviet-controlled mediocrity, which nonetheless sparkles with light and warmth.

Our young narrator-hero is suffering through the regulated boredom of high school when he is transfixed by a new teacher—an elegant "older woman" (she is thirty-two) who bewitches him with her glacial beauty and her strict intelligence. He resolves to learn everything he can about her and to win her heart.

In a sequence of marvelously funny but sobering maneuvers, he learns much more than he expected to—about politics, Poland, the Spanish Civil War, and his own passion for theater and art—all while his loved one continues to elude him. Yet without his realizing it, his efforts—largely bookish and literary—to close in on Madame are his first steps to liberation as an artist. Later, during a stint as a teacher-in-training in his old school, he discovers that he himself has become a legendary figure to a new generation of students, and he begins to understand the deceits and blessings of myth, and its redemptive power.

A winning portrait of an artist as a young man, Madame is at the same time a moving, engaging novel about strength and weakness, first love, and the efforts we make to reconcile, in art, the opposing forces of reason and passio. (From the publisher.)




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