A Zelig-like figure, Czapski is, by Karpeles’ account, “largely unknown to American readers and artists.” This fine...

ALMOST NOTHING

THE 20TH-CENTURY ART AND LIFE OF JÓZEF CZAPSKI

Engaging life of a little-known artist and writer who was on hand for some of the 20th century’s major events.

Józef Czapski’s long life (1896-1993) stretched over almost all the 20th century, and he knew everyone. Descended from “various noble houses—Baltic, Austrian, Russian—with a smattering of Polish ancestry,” he considered himself a Pole. He was more liberal than his mother, who employed only Catholic servants at the family’s estate, but he shared her broad interests and intelligence. Czapski entered the Polish army during World War I and was soon given a special assignment because of his fluency in Russian: namely, to travel inside Bolshevik Russia and retrieve three Polish officers who had disappeared there. At the beginning of World War II, when Poland was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union—“a stab in the back,” Czapski wrote, “that accelerated the collapse of our last holdout against two great totalitarian powers”—he narrowly avoided being executed by the Soviets, an atrocity for which he would ever after seek justice (and attain a small measure of it toward the end of his life). Along the way, he had a love affair with a member of the Nabokov clan, painted exquisite portraits, wrote books on Proust and other subjects, and traveled everywhere, including America, for which he had little enthusiasm. Writes biographer and translator Karpeles (Paintings in Proust, 2008, etc.), who discovered Czapski accidentally through a friend who himself discovered him through a chance remark by Canadian writer Mavis Gallant about the brilliant Polish exile community in Paris, “he spared himself no disenchantment.” A central episode in Czapski’s life was his internment in Russia before being allowed to go to British territory, which he recounts in Inhuman Land (just published, also by NYRB); Karpeles sheds abundant light on that episode, giving us a nuanced portrait of a man of parts.

A Zelig-like figure, Czapski is, by Karpeles’ account, “largely unknown to American readers and artists.” This fine biography serves as a useful corrective.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-284-6

Page Count: 460

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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