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Bruno Schulz, the great Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian Modernist writer, has become a

cult favorite in the decades after he was murdered by a Nazi officer. Last month, the
Bruno Schulz Festival was held in Drohobych. The Ukrainian-American political
consultant and bibliophile Peter Zalmayev travelled to the festival to present his
privately commissioned and published edition of a Schulz story. Zalmayev explains
the appeal that the great writer continues to hold seven decades later and the
continued influence he plays on world literature.

I first learned about the enigmatic Bruno Schulz when I read David Grossmans article
The Age of Genius in the June 2009 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The epiphany
that I subsequently experienced when I picked up Schulzs stories closely resembles
Grossmans own: You open a book by an author you dont know, and suddenly you feel
yourself passing through a magnetic field that sends you in a new direction, setting off
eddies that youd barely sensed before and could not name.

Grossman transformed his love for Schulz the creator into a yearning to save Schulz the
man, attempting with this one gnomic impulse to retrospectively right one of the
Holocausts greatest crimes against art. In Grossmans great novel, See Under: Love,
Schulz is allowed to flee the Nazi-occupied Drohobych by turning into a salmon and
swimming away, to safety.

Soon after undergoing a similar experience, I devoted myself to reading (and soon enough
beginning to collect) everything connected with Schulz. I swept through the rapidly
ballooning body of scholarly Schulzology as well as the reviews of his works and all of
the secondary novels inspired by him and that featured him as a character. I quickly realized
that I was in illustrious company with my Schulzian fixation. His many enthusiastic
champions have included literary titans such as Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia
Ozick, John Updike, Salman Rushdie and Danilo Ki. Discovering Schulz was, indeed,
akin to passing through a magnetic field a sort of initiation ceremony granting entry
into an exclusive club nay, a devoted literary cult.

I began building my own private Museum of Schulz, by collecting every edition of his
stories in every translation that had ever been published. To this I added books about Schulz
as well as catalogs and posters from exhibits of his graphic oeuvre. My total collection
currently stands at more than 200 items.

Last summer, I was finally able to find the time to embark on my long awaited pilgrimage
to Drohobych, and into the heart of Schulzs hermetic universe and muse. Roaming the
streets and parks of this remarkably well-preserved town, I felt like pinching myself so
strong was the illusion of having stepped into Schulzs pages that I felt as if I was about to
bump into Eddie, hobbling along on his crutches, or catch sight of the demented Tluya,
digging through her motley rags in the bushes. These are just 2 of the ghosts of the
characters that populate the dreamscape of Schulzs world.

Schulz published his first collection of stories, Cinnamon Shops, in 1934, without
universal acclaim, but with recognition by Polands most sophisticated literary circles.
Major literary figures such as Zofia Nakowska and Witold Gombrowicz immediately
identified Schulzs rare talent and grew to appreciate him as an artist and as a man, if not
always partaking in his idiosyncratic artistic aesthetic. The second collection of stories,
Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass followed three years later. It cemented
Schulzs status as a rising star in the firmament of Polish letters.

The writers life was to be cut tragically short five years later, in 1942, by a Gestapo
officers bullet on a Drohobych side street. Despite the strenuous efforts of his Polish
friends and benefactors to smuggle Schulz out of the Nazi-occupied city, the artist hesitated
to take the plunge. Instead, he bided his time and secured a temporary lease on life by
contracting himself to paint frescos on the wall of the bedroom of Nazi officers child. The
lease on life expired when the artist ventured out onto the streets on a black Thursday,
clutching a loaf of bread, the same day that the Nazis decided to stage a prophylactic orgy
of killing the citys Jews.

With the death of Schulz the man, the life, the myth and the mystery of Schulz the artist
was born. As the preeminent Ukrainian writer and translator Yurii Andrukhovych the
translator of the most recent Ukrainian edition of Schulzs stories puts it Schulz has
become the object of his own mythologizing, the subject of several myths: Schulz has not
died, he is still hiding from the Gestapo; Schulz has received the Nobel prize, but doesnt
know about it; Schulz is still writing his novel Messiah but now, underground.

The Messiah was the novel that Schulz had been working on for several years before his
demise, and whose manuscript he entrusted for safe-keeping to an unidentified friend. The
Messiah became the holy grail for the prominent Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski, who
eventually became Schulzs canonical biographer. Ficowski died, having spent decades
unsuccessfully looking for the lost masterpiece (and I dont doubt that it was, indeed, a
masterpiece), but not before serendipitously leading a team of German film-makers in 2001
to the discovery of Schulzs frescos in the villa taken over by the Nazi officer.

The sensational discovery of the frescoes and their equally sensational and shocking
subsequent removal and transportation to Israel by operatives of the Yad Vashem museum
is a topic worthy of a separate book. Suffice it to say, it only contributed to the myth of the
author and his Messiah. Schulz has, indeed, become a literary Messiah for scores of
famous writers, incarnating in the pages of their novels as the purported father of a Swedish
book critic in Cynthia Ozicks The Messiah of Stockholm, as a martyred Jewish writer in
Philip Roths The Prague Orgy, the aforementioned salmon of David Grossmans See
Under: Love,, the friend of the protagonist in Nicole Krauss The History of Love, and
the Schulz of Maxim Billers recent novella, Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, where
Schulz feverishly composes a letter to Thomas Mann, imagining having sighted the latter
on the streets of Drohobych.

The nooks and crannies of Schulzs Street of Crocodiles became the nooks and crannies
of the Andalusian town in Salman Rushdies The Moors Last Sigh. A worm-hole leading
into Drohobychs parallel dimension was found when Jonathan Safran Foer die-cut into
Schulzz Street of Crocodiles, to discover his own appropriated work Tree of Codes.
The letters that were before beetles had turned into eyes, into the eyes of Bruno Schulz,
and they were opening and closing again and again, some eyes clear like the sky, shining
like the seas spine, which was opening and blinking, again and again, in the middle of total
darkness, comments the protagonist of Roberto Bolaos novel Distant Star, while
reading Schulzs story.

Finally, in the field of visual arts, two interpretations of Schulzs oeuvre among many
deserve to be mentioned here: The Street of Crocodiles, a stop-motion animation by the
iconic Brothers Quay and The Hourglass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has, which went on to
win the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.

Just like his native town, Bruno Schulz and his work are located at the crossroads of Polish,
Jewish and Ukrainian cultures, embodying and detached from them all in their interiority
and universality and not fully belonging in either. While Schulzs importance to Polish
literature is now recognized to roughly the same degree as Chekhov is to Russian, and
while Israel esteemed him a prominent enough part of the Jewish cultural heritage to have
warranted a commando-style fresco-cutting operation (the so-called Schulz-gate),
Ukraines path to embracing the artist has been long and complex. The first Ukrainian
translations of Schulzs stories began appearing in the early 1990s, and at least three
different translations in various editions appeared during the following two decades. Yurii
Andrukhovych published what some say is the definitive Ukrainian translation of Schulzs
complete stories in a beautiful edition by the A-BA-BA-GA-LA-MA-GA publishing
house in 2013.

Since 2004, Drohobych has hosted the biennial International Bruno Schulz Festival,
organized jointly by the Bruno Schulz Festival Society in Lublin and the Drohobych
Pedagogical Institutes Polish Studies Center. I had wanted to attend the Festival ever since
my discovery of Schulz in 2006 but one thing or another has prevented me from making the
trip. Then, in April 2015, the chain of encounters that eventually led me to the Festival was
forged as I was wandering the vaulted space of the Arsenal International Book Festival in
Kiev. I came upon a young lady sitting modestly in a small makeshift booth, exhibiting her
book illustrations. The wrenching expressiveness of Katya Slonovas figures reminded me
of the work of Egon Schiele. If the aliveness of her characters brought to mind those
drawn by Schulz, there was a good reason for it, as I soon discovered: Slonova, likewise,
had been infected by the sting of the Schulz bug and was a devoted lover of his literary and
visual wizardry.

I stayed in close contact with Slonova until the next years Arsenal, buying a few of her
illustrations and commissioning a portrait of Schulz for my collection. Eventually, the idea
came to me to publish a new visual interpretation of Schulz work he himself being an
accomplished illustrator of his own stories with Slonova as the visual interpreter. The
decision to choose the Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass story for publication
in the illustrated edition came easily. Simply put, even in the context of Schulzs unique
body of work, this story looms as one of the most dreamlike, heart-rending if also sinister
pieces of writing in the history of literature. As this projects sole function is that of an
homage to a beloved writer, it was decided to publish it in the creators original Polish.

And what better excuse to finally make it to this years Bruno Schulz Festival than to
present the book there? The book was published by the Meridian Chernowitz publishing
house shortly before the Festival as a limited, numbered and signed edition that came in a
special slipcase. Slonova and I were honored to have the opportunity to present the book at
this gathering of Schulz lovers, which took place on June 3-9, 2016. Among them were the
leading scholars of Polish literature, practitioners of the emerging Schulzology studies,
acclaimed Ukrainian writers such as Yurii Andrukhovych and Serhiy Zhadan, the Polish
Ambassador to Ukraine and celebrated figures such as Adam Michnik, Polands leading
intellectual and a father of Solidarno.

From its modest beginnings in 2004, the Schulz Festival has gradually gathered steam,
drawing major cultural celebrities from Poland, Ukraine, Israel, the US, attracting ever-
bigger crowds of visitors. This year, the Festival has reached its pinnacle, going far beyond
the format of the academic symposium to include cultural performances, art installations,
an exhibit in Drohobychs synagogue, and concerts by the aforementioned writers,
Andrukhovych and Zhadan. In a much-welcome display of the citys willingness to finally
go beyond the narrow partisanship of the Ivan Franko (a major Ukrainian classic writer
likewise hailing from Drohobych) and Bruno Schulz divide and to accept Schulz on equal
terms, the mayors deputy greeted the participants at the opening session.

As David Goldfarb, a prominent scholar of Polish literature tells us in the introduction that
he kindly supplied for our edition, Ekaterina Slonova gives us an image of Schulzs world
of light figures on a dark ground, illuminating an aspect of Schulzs Sanatorium that is
perhaps not present in Schulzs own graphic works as we perceive them Slonovas new
illustrations expose a visual layer of Schulzs imagination that Schulz kept to himself,
buried within his artistic process, and as such, these new images cast light on a stratum of
the narrative that we as readers may have also neglected.

And so, Bruno Schulz lives on, in all his myriad incarnations, and it has been my great
pleasure and honor, with this project, to have accompanied the great artist for a short stretch
of his endless journey.

Peter Zalmayev is the director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, a board member
of the American Jewish Committee, and International Outreach Coordinator for the
Babyn Yyamar Project, Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter

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