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Madame [Paperback]

Libera Antoni
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 14 2009 1841955205 978-1841955209 Reprint
Madame tells the story of a self-absorbed Polish teenager as he pursues intellectual maturity - and the woman of his dreams, his French teacher 'Madame' - in the communist-dominated Warsaw of the early 1970s. Libera paces his exuberant young hero's fulminations, fantasies and discoveries beautifully, building a remarkably subtle characterisation of a free mind in a repressive culture. This is one of those rare novels which reminds us why we love books. A consummate literary entertainment.

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From Publishers Weekly

A teenage boy's doomed love for his glamorous French instructor in 1960s Poland informs the masterfully constructed debut of Warsaw critic and drama director Libera. When a beautiful 32-year-old teacher, known primarily as "Madame," takes over the narrator's high school French class, he is entranced by her combination of austere intelligence and immaculate beauty. He soon begins following her and researching her life to feed his obsession. When he flirtatiously taunts her in class with covert references to her past, she seems only mildly indignant. Finally, he discovers that she is the daughter of a man who left Poland for political reasons during the 1940s, and that she has felt uncertain of her own identity for much of her adult life; this revelation fills him with empathy for her. The unlikely chemistry between the immature pupil and his adult teacher is electrifying, and the tantalizing pace builds to a mystifying and heart-wrenching climax. Libera paints the narrator's obsession with Madame with a wit worthy of Nabokov (in a crystalline translation by Kolakowska) as his satire of the youth's reckless romantic impulse mixes with heated romantic intrigue. In the course of researching his amour, the narrator sees Picasso's The Human Comedy drawings and Lelouch's film A Man and a Woman, both new at the time; the attitude toward physical and psychological love expressed in both adds a complex and fitting symbolism to the intense politics and passion in the narrative. The layers of the student's obsession unravel with impressive measure as well, even if Libera occasionally gives too much attention to the inner workings of his hero's mind or the history of Poland's oppression by Communist forces. This epic fantasy is deeply satisfying, heartbreaking and enthralling. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this first novel from Polish critic and theater director Libera, the high school-aged protagonist finds life in Soviet-dominated Poland to be dreary and lacking in the drama of earlier eras. The pressure to conform politically and socially thwarts his desire for pure artistic expression. His resignation to the unremarkable is interrupted by a growing obsession with his elegant and enigmatic French teacher, Madame--seemingly out of reach at age 32. Thus, the young man spends his final year of high school uncovering the details of Madame's personal life, hoping to use these details to woo her through a covert operation that involves the intricate manipulation of the spoken and written word. While engaged in this espionage, he learns that the dramatic is made up of the everyday and that the Polish-Soviet system promotes mediocrity while burying the exceptional. This deeply symbolic Bildungsroman is full of tragedy and comedy, exuberance and suffocation. Highly recommended.
-Rebecca A. Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging on Many Levels July 12 2004
Memoirs of Cold War Poland that contain many impressive explications and developments: literary, erudite and political. Would be interesting to have seen Andrzej Wadjda make a movie out of this one instead of Ashes and Diamonds. A student pursues his elusive French teacher and discovers the truth of her political and spiritual past. The translation is excellent (by Agnieszka Kolakowska). A most engaging work on so many levels. This kind of warm, open and intelligent writing is endangered in these days of franchised cynicism/sarcasm.
Jaye Beldo: Netnous@Aol.Com
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a story of love affair in politically incorrect times April 7 2000
By MARCIN A CHWISTEK - Published on Amazon.com
"Madame", story of the love affair in the politically incorrect times.
First, I read "Madame" in Polish. And I loved it. I cherished it so much, I decided to read it in English, and my exaltation about this book has not changed. Kolakowska did a wonderful job translating Libera's crystalline prose, so there is "nothing lost in translation" and even the Poland of the 60's, which from obvious reasons might have lost its credibility in English transliteration, looks reliable and does not miss anything from its horrifying and tragicomic reality.
The book tells a story of a high school student, who falls in love with his French teacher in the communist Poland in the 60's. "Madame" is a 32 years old female, whose intelligence and beauty and sort of "western quality" glares into live of the student, who subsequently falls in love with her. Obsessed by a combination of her inaccessibility and elegance he starts to fallow her around and tries to learn everything about her private live. The main theme of the book spins around their evolving relationship, shading light on details of everyday live in the communist Poland. As one progress in his/her reading the connection between the pupil and his teacher becomes even more tantalizing and magical only to unravel into unexpected climax.
Libera, a Becket's translator and theatre director for many years, previously not known to large circles of Polish readers, almost overnight became a celebrated author. It all began after the book won a first prize in a national literary contest. Since then it occupied the national bestseller lists and became very popular outside of Poland.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Song of Virgo June 21 2000
By Leonard P. Bazelak - Published on Amazon.com
The narrator of Antoni Libera's "Madame" is a precocious teenager indeed. He speaks fluent French, can play the piano, recites scads of poetry from memory, is conversant with the works of Shakespeare, Racine, Conrad, Thomas Mann, and Schopenhauer. He is quite an actor who sees life as a chess game full of strategems by opposing forces. Most of all he, born under the sign of Virgo, is madly in love with his French teacher who is an Aquarius and whose name bears the title of the novel. The central focus of the book concerns the narrator's probing into the life of madame and coming to terms with his mad passion for her. In delving into the French teacher's life, the love-struck teenager (and the reader) are taken on a voyage that includes knowledge about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, Polish repression of artists, Picasso's work, Racine's Phedre, relations between Franch and Poland during the Cold War, and discussions of the relationship between language and reality. This all makes for an exceptionally good reading experience, despite the fact that the narrator appears to mirror the knowledge of the author (who is a literary critic himself) rather than that of himself. Though "Madame" strains the reader's credulity at times, it can be described as a tour de force written by an author who is cultured, informative, and entertaining. It is a romance that will certainly broaden a reader's literary horizons. Len Bazelak
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars La belle Victoire Aug. 8 2006
By Aleksandra Nita-Lazar - Published on Amazon.com
Madame, a late debut of the university scholar Antoni Libera, who specializes in Beckett, is an universally prized novel. I liked it too (hence four stars), but some criticism is nevertheless necessary, because it is not a perfect book.

The action takes place in Warsaw of the 1960's. The narrator is a high school student, a remarkably erudite boy from a good family (alter ego of the author) who, as nearly all the students in his year, is in love with a school headmistress and teacher of French, the mysterious "Madame". Because of his obsessive nature, and urge to know as much about her, as he possibly can, the narrator sets off on the methodical quest to reveal Madame's past. He discovers the family drama spanning several decades, the example of people's fate decided by political circumstances.

The language of the novel is great, very rich, evoking images in the reader's mind; the book is full of interesting characters and the wanderings of the narrator around Warsaw evoke nostalgia. The realism of these times in communist Poland is also remarkable. I was left with the feeling of re-reading it again from the beginning and purchased the English translation for my husband. In translation it was equally engrossing.

There are, despite my general good impression, some faults for which Libera was criticized by many readers. Two things in particular come to my mind now: firstly, although I like books which give broad reference to general culture, the narrator, a teenage boy, although, I admit, behaving like many high school students from good Polish schools do, seems to be rather an overintellectualized caricature (and knows suspiciously much about Beckett). I am not sure if it was technically meant to show the distance of the author from the narrator (and, at the same time, his youth). Secondly, the book reads as if it were written with a plan, a goal to reach the foreign reader. It is sometimes too straightforward and the author takes pains, elaborately explaining things or events, which seemed obvious to me... However, I learned a lot from the part describing the war in Spain in the 1930's!

Some say that critics should not become authors... I think in case of Libera it is not that bad, although his background seems to be a bit of a hindrance. Nevertheless, although not a complete victory, "Madame", like its heroine, attracts attention till the end.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written June 23 2008
By Alyx - Published on Amazon.com
A surprisingly quick and energetic read, Madame is beautifully written and hard to put down. Rarely are first person narratives so effective, it's hard to think of many books that made me so clearly feel a narrator's emotions or see his world so clearly through his eyes.
Definitely worth the buy.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rays of Sunshine amidst Socialist Realism April 9 2000
By Black Prince - Published on Amazon.com
This novel introduced me to growing up in Communist Poland where the big rebellions had been suppressed. The author, a teenager, has his own personal revolts against orthodoxy from above. His beautiful headteacher is a product/victim of revolt by a prior generation; he is drawn to her by her beauty amidst colourless mediocrity; but in delving into her secret he finds himself drawn to her emotionally, but conscious of the price paid by nonconformists in The System. He meets those who inwardly rebel, and those who have been punished for failure to conform.
The novel is light, but in its insight into a closed, monotheistic polity it shows how the influence of jazz, and the promise of or withholding of travel to the West shapes events.
I liked the book: it has a charm, and I too liked the character Madame, wanted to know her secret; and frankly, I thought the novel autobiographical.
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