Lem at Amazon

Stanislaw Lem at Amazon

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4.2 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 4.20 (5 Votes)

Lem wrote „Highcastle” at a time of  greatest literary triumphs as an author of science fiction, but the book does not belong to this genre.  This is a self-portrait of a writer from the times of his childhood, inquisitive, full of humor, a story about the birth and development of a personality, intelligence and imagination.  With the pre-war Lvow as background Lem tell the story about adolescence  - as attractive and full of surprises as his fictitious tales.  Why does one go back to one's childhood?  Initially, for sentimental reasons and for the reconstruction of the past world.  Later, in order to understand oneself better at a mature age and, at the center of this panorama, to raise a High Castle - of meaning, a memorial of covenant between the past and the present.

Much of the memoirist's art is in telling a selfishly personal story and giving it a universal resonance;  the pleasure for the reader is twofold:  the discovery of a previously unimagined life, and the reassurance of a human commonality.  The more exotic the locale, and the more original the mind, the more difficult the task.  Yet Mr. Lem succeeds throughout, and never more gloriously than in his account of the Gymnasium years.  He gets it all so right - the jocks, the class sophomore, say, at Beverly Hills High be seized by a sudden curiosity about the state of education in prewar Lvov, he could pick up this book and be amazed to see himself.

The tales of the budding literary fantasist are interspersed throughout with philosophical ruminations on memory, time, bureaucracy, art.

The New York Times Review of Books
This isn't a novel, as some critics have argued. This book contains no fictitious elements and if some departure from truth is present in this book, then only in the sense that art is a "beautiful lie". The whole story about the "state and identifications cards" - that to some critics seemed a "sure lie"- is authentic with one reservation - that the metaphysical aspects were added later by a mature Lem.

The child I once was has been described in detail. However at that time I was unaware of the fact that I was lonely; I liked loneliness, had few friends and I preferred my sometimes-strange meditations to company of fellow students. Already in those times I must have been a loner. But since a child does not have the opportunity to for a comparison I can only see from today's perspective that my childhood was not entirely an ordinary one.

Norbert Wiener begins his autobiography with the words "I was a child prodigy." What I would have to say is "I was a monster." Possibly that's a slight exaggeration, but as a young boy I certainly terrorized those around me. I would agree only if my father stood on the table and opened and closed an umbrella, or I might allow myself to be fed only under the table.

I don't actually remember these things; they are beginnings that lie beyond the boundary of memory. If I was a child prodigy, it could only have been in the eyes of doting aunts. (...) In my fourth year I learned to write, but had nothing of great importance to communicate by that means. The first letter I wrote to my father, from Skole, having gone there with my mother, was a terse account of how all by myself I defecated in a country outhouse that had a board with a hole. What I left out of my report was that in addition I threw into that hole all the keys of our host, who also was a physician...

Translated by Michael Kandel, Harcourt Brace