A Fly in the Soup

Charles Simic
The coming-of-age of one of America's best-loved poets, from his childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia to his bohemian years in New York City


In this richly evocative memoir by one of America's most revered contemporary poets, Charles Simic recounts his journey from a childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia to his coming-of-age experiences as a young bohemian in New York City, then as a reluctant draftee in the United States Army. Simic's early years in Belgrade, a city bombed first by the Nazis in 1941 and then by the Allies in 1944, recall memories of bombs, broken glass, and visits from the Gestapo. His family is jailed for trying to flee the newly Communist Yugoslavia and finally manages to emigrate in 1953. Their first stop is Paris, where the teenaged Simic, craving the forbidden, slips out for his first taste of French nightlife and nudie shows. In New York and Chicago, Simic attends high school and his intense interests in art, poetry, jazz, film—and women—ripen into fully formed passions. The memoir continues with recollections of Simic's induction into the Army, the publication of his first poem, and family dinners with his highly opinionated but much beloved Uncle Boris.

The pieces in this collection, previously scattered in various books and literary magazines, have been arranged chronologically to create an unusual memoir of exile and refugee life, a collage of stories, anecdotes, meditations, and poetic fragments from one of the most barbaric periods of the last century. A Fly in the Soup is both the story of a young man whose travel agents were Hitler and Stalin, and an autobiography of the childhood and coming of age of one of the most respected contemporary American poets.

Charles Simic has published more than sixty books in the United States and abroad, for which he has received a number of literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Praise / Awards

  • "The author takes us through his lonely renegade youth in Belgrade, his learning to play truant and to lie and steal to survive; he reveals his love of American movies, food, and jazz, and his lasting devotion to writing. All of this is told with an existential and absurdist disregard for plot developements and a deep imagist's love of detail. He refuses the distortion of narrative, and so his life moves along seemingly without purpose yet full of precious joy in detail. . . . This book helps to open us to the poet's stance in the world and reveals the dynamics of his mythopoetics and his original poetry."
    —Larry Smith, American Book Review, November/December 2001
  • ". . . more than a writer's account of his own formation; it is also the story of a man shaped by extremes of history, a story of displacement, war and exile—a central story of the last century and one that Simic, who never let horror deprive him of aesthetic and sensual pleasure, tells vividly. . . . Simic is a natural storyteller with an innate distaste for pallid truths, and his memoir is one of those books in which a life is so well-evoked that we recognize ourselves in experiences we've never had."
    —Meghan O'Rourke, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2001
  • "What this poet is particularly gifted at revealing is the derivation of joys and pleasures from the most unlikely, and even forbidding, sources. . . It has about it a pungency of pain, fear, sex and death blinded into an extraordinary brew of life that is far from commonplace experience. . . . This lively and heartening book of memoirs. . . reads like a child's box of jumbled treasures, made the more wonderful by the oddness of their assortment."
    —Anthony Hecht, The New York Review of Books, Volume XLVIII, No. 16
  • "The story, from the first sighting of Manhattan to the establishment of Simic's family in Chicago, is a classic tale of the discovery of America, made new and different here by the quirky and questing personalities involved. It is clear from the beginning this will not be the story of an academic poet, but a poet who will revel in the textures of American life, jazz, all-night bars, food, freedom. . . . In the brilliant twenty-third chapter, poetry is viewed largely as 'retrieval' of experience otherwise lost. Poems must be written as if only God can hear them. Simic tells the story of an Amazon tribe that places, as a religious ritual, a flute player at the bottom of a pit and then abandons him. After fasting, the flute player begins to play, for God. T hat is what the poet must do from his private pit. . . . A Fly in the Soup is an important and fascinating book."
    —David Rogers, Seton Hall University, World Literature Today, Spring 2002

Product Details

  • 5-3/8 x 8.
  • 200pp.
  • 22 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08909-3

Add to Cart
  • $21.95 U.S.