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Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition by Czesaw Miosz review

Reissued as a Penguin Classic, this is a timely meditation on homeland and what it means to be born in the east

The Lithuanian poet Czesaw Miosz (1911-2004) said this book, translated by Catherine S Leach, was inspired by a desire "to bring Europe closer to the Europeans". First published in 1968 and reissued now as a Modern Classic along with his Selectedand Last Poems, it is a timely meditation on homeland and what it means to be born in the east, where the nationalities "hated not only their sovereign, Imperial Russia, but each other". This powerful memoir is a remarkably perceptive exploration of identity of blood, language, religion and land by someone intensely aware of the forces shaping European history and politics. His experiences of occupation, living under totalitarian regimes and genocide (he lived in Warsaw during the second world war) gave him "an almost physical disgust" for nationalism and a deep conviction "that as long as we live, we must lift ourselves over new thresholds of consciousness". For this footloose poet, it offered the only promise of happiness. As in his poetry, Miosz who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1980 fuses the personal and historical into a distinctive "alloy", filled with striking imagery and insights.

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