Neither a novel nor a collection of short stories, this 1937 work, by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz, can best be described as a fragmentary biography of a young man named Joseph (who is really Schulz himself, making this, I guess, an autobiography). Written in a magical--at times surrealistic--style, this book is like a haunting dream.

The last paragraph of "Eddie" sums up the work: "...the process of sleeping is, in fact, one great story, divided into chapters and sections, into parts distributed among sleepers. When one of them stops and grows silent, another takes up his cue so that the story can proceed in broad, epic zigzags while they all lie in the separate rooms of that house, motionless and inert like poppy seed within the partitions of a large, dried-up poppy."

Of the thirteen pieces, most are descriptions of people or places in Joseph's life ("Eddie," "A Night in July"). Several serve as lead-ins to other pieces ("The Book," "The Age of Genius"). There are really only two traditional short stories, "Spring," about the change of the seasons, and "Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass," a haunting work that could easily have been written by Franz Kafka.

Indeed, Schulz has much in common with Kafka. "Father's Last Escape" contains an explicit reference to Kafka's short story "The Metamorphosis." Schulz helped his fiancee translate Kafka's novel The Trial into Polish (he even wrote an introduction to the work). Like Kafka, Schulz's writing is dreamlike, magical, introspective. He differs in that his descriptions are more detailed with frequent references to color and texture (he was a painter in real life) and he doesn't have Kafka's sense of humor.

Schulz had a tragic end: in 1942 he was shot and killed by a German Nazi officer who had a grudge against another Nazi officer who he thought was protecting Schulz.