Book Review: An Advertisement for Toothpaste by Ryszard Kapuściński

An Advertisement for Toothpaste
by Ryszard Kapuściński, William Brand (Translation)

Publication date: February 22nd 2018
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 53

Penguin Modern Series #16


‘Like rotting stakes in a forest clearing’

The great journalist of conflict in the Third World finds an even stranger and more exotic society in his own home of post-War Poland

Penguin Modern: fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Shirley Jackson; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York’s underground scene to the farthest reaches of outer space.

Source: Goodreads


“An Advertisement for Toothpaste” is the sixteenth in the Penguin Modern Series. It’s a series of 4 essays by Kapuscinski, taken from his book Nobody Leaves.

All four of these stories are set in post-WW2 Poland and as the author was a journalist, it’s a little unclear whether they are truth or fiction.

Unfortunately, unlike my other reads in the series so far, I can’t really recommend this one. For the most part, I didn’t understand what I was reading. I was often confused and a lot of the content went over my head.

I was ready to confidently give up on this little book, as I determined that this wasn’t for me, but then the final story, ‘The Stiff’, improved things slightly. I enjoyed this story a lot more than the others and would have probably enjoyed it even more had it been longer than 10 pages in length.

I wonder if maybe I’m just not the target audience for this, or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be reading it, but I probably won’t be picking up and more work by this author. I’m somewhat grateful to read that other reviewers were confused by this too, I don’t feel so bad for not understanding it now!

Overall rating: Despite it’s intriguing name, “An Advertisement for Toothpaste” really isn’t a book I can recommend. I didn’t understand a lot of it and felt confused until the final story. I’m sure this will be enjoyed by many, but sadly it’s not for me – 1 star.

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