“I can recall no whining.” Polish war hero, artist, writer Józef Czapski is in the news – and I write about him for the WSJ!

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No sooner was it up than it was behind a paywall, but my The Wall Street Journal review is nevertheless in print and online here. “Shouldering the Century’s Burden,” discusses a spray of books on a man who has been too little-known in the West, Józef Czapski (1896-1993) – a writer, an artist, a diplomat, and humanitarian during an inhuman era.

Another kind of hero

He was tireless in the fight against totalitarianism, whether it took the form of Nazism or Communism – and Poland got a taste of both. He left behind more than 270 notebooks, as well as hundreds of paintings and thousands of sketches.

The modern hero of the story is Eric Karpeles, who the author of a “moving and strikingly original biography” (my words),  Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski. Also, a new translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones of Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941-42. Karpeles has also translated Czapski’s Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp. And then a fourth, from the Cahiers series a few years ago. (I had an onstage conversation with Eric Karpeles at the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in November – I write about it here.)

““I can recall no whining,” Keith Botsford writes in Józef Czapski: A Life in Translation (2009) “As he’d faced all the alterations of his long life, that Tolstoyan and Catholic streak in him was powerfully directed towards what was actively good, to what could still be celebrated about life.” Elsewhere, “I am setting down a quality of his mind: the way he made connections. Not table-talk. He spoke ill of no one; even about Picasso he changed his mind.”

You can read the whole thing here.  I’ll be writing more in the days ahead. However, the Wall Street Journal requests a moratorium on excerpts for 30 days after publication. Excerpts published before I was informed have been removed for that reason.


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3 Responses to ““I can recall no whining.” Polish war hero, artist, writer Józef Czapski is in the news – and I write about him for the WSJ!”

  1. David Bakalar Says:

    I’m a sculptor and art collector. Czapski’s powerful self portrait with lightbulb reminds me of Giacometti. Does the painting still exist and if so where can it be seen?

    David Bakalar 35 Lapland Road Chestnut Hill Mass. 02467

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    It’s in the collection of Michael Popiel de Boisgelin in Kurozwęki, Poland.

  3. Aries Says:

    Good one