Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681372846
Pages: 496
Publication Date: November 6, 2018

Almost NothingThe 20th Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski

by Eric Karpeles

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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 Nazis 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, working tirelessly in Paris to keep awareness of the plight of his homeland alive, overrun by totalitarian powers. Czapski was a towering public figure, but painting gave meaning to his life.

Eric Karpeles, also a painter, reveals Czapski’s full complexity, pulling together all the threads of this remarkable life.

Praise

Józef Czapski was a beautiful human being, courageous, noble but also hard-working; occasionally a soldier, journalist, diarist, always writing, drawing, always with a sketchbook in hand, always ready to help friends and strangers. In his person high intelligence and remarkable artistic talent met with an active, almost naive goodness—a rather rare combination, as we know. Almost Nothing reads at times like a political novel—when this delicate painter speaks to high-ranking Stalin’s henchmen—or like “roman de l’artiste” when he talks with Anna Akhmatova in Tashkent. Eric Karpeles’ generous, fantastically researched book renders justice to this exceptional figure and to the painful, monstrously brutal historical background against which Czapski’s life has to be measured.
—Adam Zagajewski

Józef Czapski’s essays on Proust, written in a Soviet prison camp: these proved the unlikely impetus to Eric Karpeles’s remarkable biography of the Polish painter and writer, who bore witness to twentieth- century history in its peculiarly brutal Polish incarnation. Karpeles’s own gifts as critic and artist produce the kind of book that Czapski himself might well have applauded. His eloquence on the paintings is unmatched. The passion, intelligence, and commitment he brings to his task should finally give Czapski the English-language audience he so richly deserves.
—Clare Cavanagh

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