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Stanisław Lem: Pamietnik znaleziony w wannie (Memoirs Found in a Bathtub)

It is the year 3149 and a vast paper-destroying blight has destroyed much of the planet’s written documents. However, a memoir has been found in an old bathtub and it is this memoir that is the novel. The memoir is a semi-kafkaesque tale of a man (maybe) on a mission. I say semi-kafkaesque because it is less threatening and more light-hearted than Kafka. The hero works in a giant underground complex which could be the Pentagon or any part of the Soviet bureaucracy. He has a mission. The trouble is that he does not know what the mission is nor how to find out who does. He makes his way around the labyrinth trying to find out what it is, increasingly despairing of finding success. Lem paints a light-hearted satirical portrait of the denizens of the labyrinth, many of whom are intent only on spying on one another with a complex but often nonsensical set of codes, tactics, procedures and tasks. There is the code-master who is able to show that any text (Shakespeare, for example) is a code of something else (invariably something else meaningless). There is the archivist with his mouldering, nonsensical books determined to have our hero borrow one of these books. And does he get his mission? Well no, he merely ends up in the bathtub.

Publishing history

First published 1971 by Wydawnictwo Literackie
First English translation 1973 by Seabury Press