Józef Czapski: Soldier, Critic, Eyewitness, Painter
National book tour with scholar and translator Eric Karpeles
Previously little-known in English, this year New York Review Books is bringing three books by or about Czapski to American readers. Almost Nothing is the first English-language biography of Czapski by painter, writer, and translator Eric Karpeles. Karpeles has written critical works on Marcel Proust, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickenson, Gustav Mahler, and Mark Rothko.
Karpeles has also translated Czapski’s unique work Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp. While in a Soviet POW camp, Czapski – working from memory – composed and delivered a series of lectures on Proust (in French) to his fellow-prisoners. This unparalleled feat of the critical imagination is now available in English for the first time, revealing Czapski as one of the greatest Proustians – even under terrible wartime conditions.
Józef Czapski (1896-1993) lived many lives-as a soldier, public figure, historical witness, memoirist, essayist, and painter. His ninety-six years nearly span the twentieth century in its entirety. He was a student in St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution and a painter in Paris in the Roaring Twenties. As a Polish reserve officer fighting against the invading Germans in the opening weeks of the Second World War, he was taken prisoner by the Soviets and survived the Katyn Massacre. He never returned to Poland but worked tirelessly in Paris to raise awareness of the plight of his homeland, overrun by totalitarian powers. Czapski was a towering public figure, but painting gave meaning to his life.
Eric Karpeles is a painter, writer, and translator. His comprehensive guide, Paintings in Proust, considers the intersection of literary and visual aesthetics in the work of the great French novelist. He has written about the paintings of the poet Elizabeth Bishop and about the end of life as seen through the works of Emily Dickinson, Gustav Mahler, and Mark Rothko. The painter of The Sanctuary and of the Mary and Laurance Rockefeller Chapel, he is the also the translator of Józef Czapski’s Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp and Lorenza Foschini’s Proust’s Overcoat. He lives in Northern California.