THIS IS THE FIFTH item in Penguin's "Writers from the Other Europe" series, which is under the general editorship of Phillip Roth and constitutes his most notable contribution in recent years to the joy of discriminating readers. Unlike the previous titles, two by Polish writers, The Street of Crocodiles is not "contemporary" even in a loose sense. It depicts Jewish life in Drogobych, a small Polish willage (today, by the fortunes of war, a Russian village) in the early '30s, still untouched by the Nazism and Communism which have provided a background for the other authors presented: Milan Kundera, Ludvik Vaculik, Tadeusz Borowski and Tadeusz Konwicki.
Although his surviving works (two short story collections and a novella) are pitifully low in bulk, Schulz is a significant discovery. He combines a dense-textured style sometimes like that of Proust with a comic vision of horror and absurdity that calls to mind Kafka (whose The Trail Schulz translated into Polish).
This, his first book, was written originally for an audience of one person, a fellow-writer.(Schulz was almost pathologically shy and thought of himself primarily as a graphic artist.) In it, we can see his control of his materials growing, his vision deepening in successive stories.
They are in a sense a protest against "the fathomless, empty boredom" of the village, but they transform its humdrum people, its commonplace streets and buildings into a fantasy world of strange shapes and colors, unfathomable mysteries. At the center of the mystery, simultaneously comic and epic stands the author's father, a man whose bizarre hobbies and concerns (hatching tropical birds in the attic, for example) distract him and the reader from the fact that he is slowly dying.