Proud to be a Mammal (1942-97) is Czeslaw Milosz's moving and diverse collection of essays. Among them, he covers his passion for poetry, his love of the Polish language that was so nearly wiped out by the violence of the twentieth century, and his happy childhood. Milosz also includes a letter to his friend in which he voices his concern about the growing indifference to murder and the true value of freedom of thought, as well as a verbal map of Wilno, with each street revealing both a rich local history and intricate, poignant personal memories.
Student Review by Andrea Baltrus, studied English Literature at NUI Galway in Ireland.
Proud to be a Mammal is a collection of essays by CzesLaw MiLosz, a writer who was Lithuanian born and of Polish descent. Milosz’s writing is very powerful and quite disturbing at times as he recollects the beginnings of the Soviet Union and the eventual consequences of these actions on the Baltic States and Poland. To begin to comprehend Milosz as a writer, one needs to recognize the shaded past of the endings of World War II and the emergence of Russia as a cruel, greedy superpower. There is humour in Milosz’s writing almost to the extent of using humour as a means to cope but also a code to disguise his disgust at the persecution of a people. Milosz is very philosophical in his writing. He realizes that there are more important matters in life than material goods. What truly has meaning is man’s sense of identity and duty.
Each essay reflects that same message. The essay titled, “The Peace Boundary” is truly poignant and moving. He writes about the annexation of the Baltic nations to Russia. This essay is a reflection of the events that ensue as well as remembering the past of Lithuania in particular. The book is rich in history and attitudes towards those in power. It is a study of the human spirit in difficult and dangerous times. The importance of printing these works of literature into the mainstream is to gain an exposure and to educate a future generation not to create the mistakes of the past. Milosz risked his life with his writing during communist times. It was dangerous due to the fact that a tyrannical government looks to ban books and writing to ward off reprisals and revolt from the people. Books create ideas and self identity as well as a means to defend one’s honour. There is fear of uprising when people are allowed to attain knowledge. Milosz remains true to his Eastern European roots with each of the essays. He gives a voice to those who have gone before him, fighting to their death for freedom and justice.
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