"The Elephant" is a book collecting of forty-two short stories where Slawomir Mrożek pokes fun at politics, bureaucracy and social life of Poland in the 1950s.
Although Poland is never named here what the author wrote had a very clear goal: hitting the daily comedy of a life ruled by what the Party and its hyerarchies said.
It's a fact that most Polish people at that time had to follow the line (or at least pretend to do it for their own sake). And that Party line was far from being straight and drawn after logic, but rather bent to the left with the final result of blazing a turning spiral into either sad or ridicolous endings for those who walked along it.
Mrożek understood this and decided to amplify and enhance the spiralling process to its extreme consequences. Therefore, the style he chose here is sober and precise miracolously suspended in midair between fairytale telling and a political statement with punchlines delivered just at the right time and with a flawless aplomb.
The comparison with Kafka chosen by the British editors of the English translation of this book is a bit simplistic.
First of all the short stories written by Kafka have very little humour in them and secondly, Mrożek is way more direct and concise than the Czech master. Moreover, unlike Kafka, the Polish author employs a first person narrative with sparingness and doesn't investigate over the moral dilemmas, psychologic idiosyncrasies or overwhelming victimism of his characters.
Mrożek is what I may call a clever situationist or better an artist of witty situationism while Kafka joined a very different club and the complexity of his conclusions are by far harder to grasp in a single draught.
If Kafka is a strong drink, not a schnapps but a fruity liquor, to sip and taste thoughtfully, Mrożek is prosecco, dry white wine with sparkling on the top you can freely indulge yourself with.
It looks like this sparkling Mrożek believes that human beings, after all, are not complicated but predictable creatures and it's rather the situations they deal with which transcend into extraordinariness.
In fact, the short stories collected into "The Elephant" are populated by common people and mostly revolve around plausible situations with some unexpected twist or decision turning on the table into absurd realism. This technique makes the subtle but strong message delivered by Mrożek even more powerful leaving a pleasant taste in the readers' mouth.
My favourite toasts here? "The Elephant", "The Swan", "The Co-operative", "A Citizen's Fate" and "In the Drawer" with the last one reminding me the idea behind a little gem of a Polish movie of some 25 years ago, "Kingsajz".
PS: A final special mention goes to the few but carefully chosen illustrations by Daniel Mroz here. These drawings perfectly fit and add up something magic to what Slawomir Mrożek wrote.