Mieke Chew at The Quarterly Review:
August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance to see the sights, world war breaks out. The natural, dutiful response is to pile back aboard with your countrymen and head home to Europe. You line up on the dock with your bags and wait. Then, something—a big something—makes you turn around. You leave your group and slip through the crowd and into the streets, never to see Poland again. So began the self-imposed exile of Witold Gombrowicz.
Trans-Atlantyk may be Gombrowicz’s most autobiographical novel but getting caught up in a comparison between the author and protagonist, though tempting, would be as silly as the plot, which starts reasonably enough then quickly descends into a giddy chaos of deranged office scenarios, pompous soirees, disgraced honor, and botched duels. The story is told in the style of a gawęda, or fireside chat. There is no direct equivalent in English.