I, dirty rat!: A close look at verminkind

January 01, 1995|By Dick Roraback | Dick Roraback,Los Angeles Times

They are loathsome, miasmal things, ranking down there with roaches, asps, journalists. Patricidal, matricidal, fratricidal, even homicidal, they live in sewers, spread disease, glory in slime, revel in raunch. And their teeth keep growing. But they can't help it.

Suppose you were born a "Rat"? Andrzej Zaniewski supposes just that. Noting that rats "have found their most congenial living conditions among people," that come the revolution they may well inherit the Earth, Mr. Zaniewski has done nothing less than write a rat's autobiography. With rare empathy, he cites Hercules, Odysseus, Niobe, Antigone in pointing out that "many tragedies, dramas, adventures take place around rats' burrows and nests."

Then he gets right into it. It's a study at once repulsive and fascinating, a princely effort asking us to sympathize with a hairy little brute that copulates with its own mother, chomps on its own offspring, eats the brains out of live swine, savors "the warmth and taste of blood that hasn't set yet." Yes, but. . . . What if you learned, as an infant, to fear light itself? In the light, everything is out to kill you -- men, cats, snakes, even a brother slightly larger. Everywhere are traps, poisons; the slightest noise makes you retch in fright. Little wonder that you "learn to fear, learn to escape. Terror will increase your strength. Later you will learn to hate and kill."

It is a gruesome tale, not without high drama. Our hero is born in a bakery cellar, ships out on a freighter, gets caught in a war, is seduced by a flute, mates, kills, eats, fights . . . dies. Rats!

Title: "Rat"

Author: Andrzej Zaniewski, translated from Polish by Ewa Hryneiwicz-Yarbrough

Publisher: Arcade

Length, price: 176 pages, $19.95

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