Writer, translator, and painter Eric Karpeles discusses the life and art of Józef Czapski.
Co-presented with TNS at Commonweal.
About Almost Nothing
A compelling biography of the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski that takes readers to Paris in the Roaring Twenties, to the front lines during WWII, and into the late 20th-century art world.
Józef Czapski (1896-1993) lived many lives--as a soldier, public gure, 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.
"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. “Almost Nothing” reads at times like a political novel—when this delicate painter speaks to Stalin’s high-ranking henchmen—or like un 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
About Eric Karpeles
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.