“The Star Diaries” by Stanislaw Lem


(Author: Stanislaw Lem) + (Year: 1978) + (Goodreads)


What a fantastic book! One of the best ones that I have read this year!!! If you have not read it, and I assume that is the situation, I highly recommend it!

“I sat at my desk today, to write, and the chair said to me: ‘What a strange world this is!”

I will put this bluntly: I am highly aware that the English speaking world generally neglects the literature of the rest of the world, which is the idea behind the Reading the World challenge to begin with. I am also aware that among the world literature that does gain some fame, the Eastern block is not in focus. HOWEVER, I think that by not reading certain novels, The Star Diaries among them, people are committing literary crime. Because this book is brilliant in its writing, ideas and sense of humor, achieved through satire.

I read it in Michael Kandel’s translation, my Polish not being great as of yet(though I consider myself a good student), and I thought the writing was beautiful. I can only begin to imagine how lovely Lem’s original expressions are, because translations, no matter how good, always take away something from the original.

The language, overall, was very rich, changing between styles, even using a made up version of old and new language, in the Polish version, I assume, Polish, but also, and much credit to Kandel, of course, in the English version, a sensational mix of old and new English that I had some trouble with, but that only attests to it’s greatness, because it used expressions long out of use.

I am generally not a fan of satire, but this book was fantastic in that sense. The humor, so gentle and subtle and yet obviously there, was amazing. I usually put some berth between myself and humorous books, but I do not regret a second of reading The Star Diaries. Which brings me to the moment I will acquaint you with the book itself: The Star Diaries tells the story of Ijon Tichy, who travels from one planet to another and gets in all kinds of strange and comic situations. The stories are told in separate journeys, instead of chapters, and the journeys themselves were written out of order for 20 years. Some of them lean more on the philosophy, some more on the humor, but all of them are ultimately rewarding.  

Ijon Tichy is a great narrator. What he succeeds at the best is the fact that he takes all of the events that happen to him, no matter how strange or borderline disturbing they are, in a light-hearted and calm manner. He escapes narrowly from crashing his ship on numerous occasions, he is left stranded in space, he gets mixed up in all kinds of weird events, and he does it in an almost graceful manner. Even more so when he ponders whether he really existed, to begin with, when he creates the world, or gets arrested by robot fanatics.

Some of the voyages were better than others, some were longer and some, much shorter. I had trouble with the language, as I mentioned above, of the Eleventh Voyage, but the idea was brilliant and reminded me a lot of The Man Who Was Thursday. I will not let out any spoilers but it was great! If you ever wondered how the world was created, you would enjoy the Eight Voyage, in which Ijon goes to represent Earth in a gathering of the United Planets and understands how we came to be(a silly accident of oil spillage). He creates the history of the planet through a series of work mishaps during a project that he is in charge of in the Twentieth Voyage. The Twenty-first Voyage was admittedly challenging in a philosophical way, but also extremely interesting as it tells the story of how Ijon Tichy crashes on a planet of creatures that used to be human-like, until they started making genetic changes to their bodies and ended up completely robot and unable to return to the way they used to be, because they are torn by conflicts both of philosophical and religious character. (click for original Lem illustration)

I will leave you enjoy the rest of this mad and fantastic book on your own, but if you ever trusted my judgement, you will read it, because it is great! It incorporates all of the flaws of humanity, told in a humorous way, and also, as it seemed to me, though ironic, nevertheless full of the affection that Lem had for the human kind.



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