‘The Elephant’ by Sławomir Mrożek, translated by Konrad Syrop

Mrożek’s compact fables turn the bureaucratic illogic and rigidity of life in the Stalinist Poland of the 1950s into deadpan satirical vignettes. The pieces find “absurdity” not in some abstruse realm of avant-garde ideas, but in the frustrations and deceptions of everyday life. In the title-story to this collection, the “elephant” allocated to a cash-starved zoo turns out to be ersatz: a rubber surrogate that modestly refuses to waste the precious hard currency that a real beast would cost. But even simulacra (that inescapable Polish motif again) may acquire a transformative life of their own…

First published 1957; collected in The Elephant, Penguin Central Europe Classics, 2010

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