Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: December 18, 2018
Inhuman LandSearching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941–1942
by Józef Czapski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, with an introduction by Timothy Snyder
In 1941, when Germany turned against the USSR, tens of thousands of Poles—men, women, and children who were starving, sickly, and impoverished—were released from Soviet prison camps and allowed to join the Polish Army being formed in the south of Russia. One of the survivors who made the difficult winter journey was the painter and reserve officer Józef Czapski.
General Anders, the army’s commander in chief, assigned Czapski the task of receiving the Poles arriving for military training; gathering accounts of what their fates had been; organizing education, culture, and news for the soldiers; and, most important, investigating the disappearance of thousands of missing Polish officers.
Blocked at every level by the Soviet authorities, Czapski was unaware that in April 1940 many officers had been shot dead in Katyn forest, a crime for which Soviet Russia never accepted responsibility.
Czapski’s account of the years following his release from the camp and the formation of the Polish Army, and its arduous trek through Central Asia and the Middle East to fight on the Italian front offers a stark depiction of Stalin’s Russia at war and of the suffering, stoicism, and bravery of his fellow Poles. A work of clear observation and deep compassion, Inhuman Land is one of the twentieth century’s indispensable acts of literary witness.lloyd-jones
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
Inhuman Land is a gripping and heartrending depiction of the Soviet Union at war in the years 1941–43. Equipped with a perfect knowledge of Russian, Józef Czapski was able to describe the USSR in all its cruel complexity, alert both to the brutality of Soviet power and the generosity of ordinary Russians. Here Czapski reveals himself as one of the great witnesses of the twentieth century.