Christopher Smart’s Cat by Igor Webb


This is a book about displacement, flight, settlement and resettlement, about “life and death in the Pannonian plain,” as Igor Webb writes, appropriating the old Roman name for today’s Central Europe in order to identify the geographical place as also the metaphorical center, the crossroads, of twentieth century history and culture. Told from the vantage point of those, like the author, who were children in the Holocaust, the book is a beautifully crafted meditation on great writers—from Virginia Woolf to W.G. Sebald, from Philip Roth to Danilo Kiš—as well as a gripping tale alive with remarkable characters. None more remarkable than Christopher Smart (1722-1771), whose ecstatic verse mysteriously provides the book with its title.

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  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 220
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March 2018
  • ISBN: 978-1-948017-02-2


This is a book about life and death in the Pannonian plain, but since no one in our neck of the woods has ever heard of Pannonia, I thought a little send-off to orient the reader might be a good idea.

I am going to rely on a short prose piece from Zbigniew Herbert’s The King of the Ants to do the trick. It’s titled “Sacrifice.”

The setting is a dingy backroom in something like the old offices of the Communist Party in, say, Krakow.

“Stained tablecloths, traces of cigarettes around the small plates on the conference table of Olympus, unchanged napkins, wilting flowers in crystal vases, and a monotonous menu, a poor choice of wine—that in itself bore witness to the gods’ profound crisis.”

The crisis is that the Olympians are facing both irrelevance and death, and Zeus is puzzling over how to reclaim the old authority of the gods before it’s too late. Hermes advises him “to choose one of the gods as a sacrifice and to have him sacrificed by people.” (If you look up “God” in the authoritative source for the origins of English words, the Oxford English Dictionary, one useful thing you learn about Him is that the root meaning of the word is “what is worshipped by sacrifice.”) Finding a scapegoat turns out to be easier than anyone expected: Dionysus, suffering from migraines and alcohol addiction, readily agrees to fill the role.

I suppose like all executioners, the gods assume the whole thing will be quick and painless.
“ ‘Did Dionysus suffer?’ Zeus asked naively.
“ ‘Not only did he suffer. He wept. And called God to witness.’”

OK. So: Go little book . . .


Igor Webb was born in Slovakia and raised in the Inwood section of Manhattan. He has published four books. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in, among others, The New Yorker, Partisan Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, and Notre Dame Review. He is the Director of the Creative Writing MFA program at Adelphi University.

Additional information

Weight 16 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in