Tomasz Lem was a late child of Stanisław Lem, so he has no memory of his father as a young man. "Gravity-Related Tantrums" is his portrait of his famous parent (...) From this the story of Lem the man emerges: his wartime adventures are described in brief, as are the various flats and houses where he lived, his foreign travels and longer visits to West Berlin and Vienna, the accounts of his friends and intellectual partners, and also his private passions and weaknesses, mainly a disastrous passion for sweets. Accompanying the writer, always in his shadow, but as an extremely important person, is his wife Barbara – his partner and carer through all the years of their marriage. More interestingly, from a wider perspective than the family one, this is the portrait of a unique personality in the days when the totalitarian regime was in power, which was also an era when the world was divided, information was rationed, goods were generally in short supply and services were inefficient in the socialist camp. The struggles with these inconveniences of such a stubborn man as Stanisław Lem, his moments of defiance, despair and discouragement are on the one hand an excuse to show the gloomy truth about communism, and on the other a topic for endless satirical anecdotes.
Jerzy Jarzębski (full review)
In my childhood my father showered me in toys. And there might not have been anything strange about that, if it weren’t for the fact that he had already been buying toys for many years before I was born. On a trip to Russia in the 1960s, for example, he bought a model aeroplane, assembled it in his hotel room, but then found he couldn’t get it out of the room because of its huge dimensions, so he instantly presented it to a writer friend with whom he was sharing the room, and who was going to stay on in Moscow a little longer. When I grew up he complained that his son didn’t want to play with the toys he bought any more. From then on he bought far fewer of them, but whenever he came across a particularly beautiful model of a ship or a steam engine, he couldn’t stop himself.
Whenever I paid my father a visit, I always began with the sacramental question: “Have you got time, Dad?” For me he usually had. We had an interest in geophysics – my father used to draw volcanoes, we looked at anatomy or astronomy books together, and there was a lot of talk about the planets, whose names I was able to recite before I started school. My father did not criticise my suggestion that the rings of Saturn are turning more and more slowly, although keeping silent in response to a view that so blasphemously violated the fundamental laws of mechanics must have cost him a lot. Specially for my use he designed a vehicle powered by dogs and cats (instead of an engine). His more advanced model was equipped with an extra dog and cat for reverse gear. Naturally, both vehicles remained at the drawing-board stage, whereas the measure of his devotion to his son was a crankshaft-propelled model of the railway up Kasprowy mountain that he designed, and which for some time ran diagonally across his study between the bedside table and the bookshelf, almost immediately above his desk.
Sharing out his sweets – chocolate-coated marzipan, which my father called “marzipan bread” – had its own special ritual. My father would open the cupboard, take out a pair of scissors, wipe the blade on his handkerchief, and then, quiet and focused, he would unwrap a piece of marzipan and cut off two portions – one for me and one for him. After a moment of blissful, contemplative silence, with a brisk sweep of his hand my father would tip the crumbs into the gap under the desk flap – over time quite a lot of them collected in there. These marzipan feasts had a conspiratorial atmosphere because – though it was never mentioned – we were both aware that my mother would not have approved of our way of disposing of the crumbs, and the way the scissors were cleaned could also have prompted doubts.
Among my father’s construction successes I should include the hand-made electric engine, complete with coil; to wind it up he built a special, crank-driven mechanism. As far as a seven-year-old’s safety was concerned, it wasn’t the ideal construction. The engine really did work, yet many of its exposed parts had 110 volts of live electricity running through them. As a dutiful chronicler I should add that from the initial stage of building this engine, my father was so absorbed in his creative construction work that he forgot all about my presence.