Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


"But has anything ever changed for the better in the very fabric of those ruling Russia," wrote Jozef Czapski in 1942, "have they become better, more sympathetic, more human?" What an amazing man! It is as if he could look forward seventy-odd years and take the measure of Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Born into a Polish family in what is now the Czech Republic but then was part of the Russian Empire, Czapski served briefly in the Russian Army in the First World War, then in the Polish Army against the Bolsheviks in 1920, before settling in Paris as a student of art and French literature. As a reserve officer, he served again in the Second World War, when he found himself in a Soviet prison camp. "Amnestied" in 1941 with a few hundred other officers and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, he was assigned the task of finding those who'd been captured with him, and who had vanished into the Gulag. Inhuman Land is the story of that search, newly translated and published in a compact paperback by New York Review Books. It is a masterpiece and should be read by any student of Polish, Russian, or indeed world history.

The editors at NYRB have done us two more favors. While a prisoner, Czapski reached back to his Paris days and prepared a lecture series on Marcel Proust's Á la recherche du temps perdu. These have now been published in a slim volume, appropriately titled Lost Time. (What time is more lost than time in prison?) More a tour de force than a contribution to the Proust canon, it is a tribute to Czapski's incredible memory, to the determination of the half-starved men who attended his lectures, and to the devotion of the two who transcribed for us to enjoy.

Finally, NYRB has published the first biography of this remarkable man: Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Jozef Czapski. The author is Eric Karpeles, who also translated Lost Time. I have the biography on order and will post a review in April.

Good grief! We keep hearing about the insane cost of tuition at Harvard and lesser schools, but have you lately checked the price of academic publications? Hitler's Wehrmacht, 1935-1945 goes for an eye-watering $65 in hardcover, $30 digital! But if you can find it at the university library, it's very much worth reading. It's an edited translation from the German, so the author was freed from the politically correct rubbish of ascribing every activity of a German soldier to the "Nazis," as British and American writers tend to do, and even referring to the Wehrmact as the "Nazi army." (If a Nazi army did exist, it was the Waffen SS, which wasn't part of the Wehrmacht!) It's dry as dust, of course, but all the more astounding for that. My God, what a bloodletting the German armed forces went through, and not just the army on the eastern front, but the submarime service and the Luftwaffe as well. Fascinating too how porous the boundaries between those services were. The Noble laureate Günther Grass first tried to join the navy, but there was a lull in recruitment so he was assigned to the air force auxiliary and the labor service, before being drafted as a Waffen SS "volunteer" on the eastern front. (He was lucky enough to be wounded, sent back home, and captured by the Americans just as the war ended.) Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Incident at Muc Wa

Daniel Ford's books:

Cowboy: Interpreter, Soldier, Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam
The Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam
Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault & His American Volunteers, 1941-1942
Tales of the Flying Tigers (think of it as a lengthy appendix to the history)
The Lady and the Tigers (Olga Greenlaw)
Poland's Daughter: How I Learned About Love, War, and Exile
Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot
A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America's War on Terror
The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal
The Greater America: An Epic Journey Through a Vibrant New Country (Ralph Paine)
~ ~ ~ ~
Michael's War: A Story of the Irish Republican Army
Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers
Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War
The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

And a close-out sale

Over the years, I've accumulated a pile of books now out-of-print or just bought in too-large quantities. I'm selling them off for $5 each. Add $5 for Media Mail postage in the United States (only), no matter how many books your order. They include three novels: Now Comes Theodora: A Story of the 1960s, The High Country Illuminator: The Ski Bums of Avalon, and Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers. For non-fiction, there's the 2007 HarperCollins edition of Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and the War on Terror, the Smithsonian hardcover of Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot, and The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal.

They'll be autographed and mailed straightaway, as long as they last. Media Mail takes about a week in the Lower Forty-Eight. Get the order blank here. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

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Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

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Posted March 2019. Websites © 1997-2019 Daniel Ford. All rights reserved.