Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Lost TimeLectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp
by Józef Czapski, introduction and translated from the French by Eric Karpeles
An NYRB Classics Original
November 2018 selection for the NYRB Classics Book Club.
During the Second World War, as a prisoner of war in a Soviet camp, and with nothing but memory to go on, the Polish artist and soldier Józef Czapski brought Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time to life for an audience of prison inmates. In a series of lectures, Czapski described the arc and import of Proust’s masterpiece, sketched major and minor characters in striking detail, and movingly evoked the work’s originality, depth, and beauty. Eric Karpeles has translated this brilliant and altogether unparalleled feat of the critical imagination into English for the first time, and in a thoughtful introduction he brings out how, in reckoning with Proust’s great meditation on memory, Czapski helped his fellow officers to remember that there was a world apart from the world of the camp. Proust had staked the art of the novelist against the losses of a lifetime and the imminence of death. Recalling that triumphant wager, unfolding, like Sheherazade, the intricacies of Proust’s world night after night, Czapski showed to men at the end of their tether that the past remained present and there was a future in which to hope.
Includes an 8-page color insert of Czapski's lecture notes.
"This gentle, tenacious, adamantine figure has been far too little known in the West—until now. New York Review Books recently published a moving and strikingly original biography by Eric Karpeles, Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski; a new translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones of Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941-42; and Mr. Karpeles’s translation of Czapski’s Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp. Together these books document Czapski’s physical and spiritual survival during a nightmare era, but, more than that, they re-create an overlooked life, one marked by an exemplary measure of modesty, moral clarity and artistic richness. Moreover, Mr. Karpeles, a California-based painter and art critic, has ignited international interest in Czapski’s artwork.
—Cynthia Haven, The Wall Street Journal
The Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski lived through almost the entire twentieth century as an exception to the rule. A pacifist who became a Polish army officer being deported to a Soviet prison camp in 1939, he was one of very few to survive the Katyn massacre perpetrated by Stalin’s secret police the following year....He was both a patriot and a European in the deepest sense, with friends and family connections across the continent. In this year’s centenary of independence regained, a new generation of Poles in a country at the crossroads must decide whether Czapski’s vision will also be theirs.
—Stanley Bill, Times Literary Supplement
To think of these radiant, incisive reflections delivered in the stinking cold of a Soviet prisoner-of-war mess hall beggars imagination. A remnant of the Polish officer class done to death en mass by Stalin, Czapski was—without benefit of books or notes—among the greatest Proustians. Long may his name live.
Czapski sometimes speaks of himself—but always in terms of the ceaseless battle he wages for clear vision, for full use of his gifts, the battle to imbue his life with maximal meaning.