Wartime Notebooks


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France, 1940-1944

Andrzej Bobkowski; Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein

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A Polish writer’s experience of wartime France, a cosmopolitan outsider’s perspective on politics, culture, and life under duress

When the aspiring young writer Andrzej Bobkowski, a self-styled cosmopolitan Pole, found himself caught in occupied France in 1940, he recorded his reflections on culture, politics, history, and everyday life. Published after the war, his notebooks offer an outsider’s perspective on the hardships and ironies of the Occupation.

In the face of war, Bobkowski celebrates the value of freedom and human life through the evocation—in a daringly untragic mode—of ordinary existence, the taste of simple food, the beauty of the French countryside. Resisting intellectual abstractions, his notes exude a young man’s pleasure in physical movement—miles clocked on country roads and Parisian streets on his trusty bike—and they reveal the emergence of an original literary voice. Bobkowski was recognized in his homeland as a master of modern Polish prose only after Communism ended. He remains to be discovered in the English-speaking world.

Andrzej Bobkowski (1913–1961) was born in Austria, raised in Poland, spent World War II in occupied France, and died in Guatemala. Grazyna Drabik teaches literature at City College of New York. Laura Engelstein is professor of Russian history emerita at Yale University.

"Bobkowski is a marvelous discovery! Thanks to Laura Engelstein and Grazyna Drabik’s sparkling translation, we can read his diary of wartime France, which brims with detailed, lavish, and ironic observations of the German occupation and of the French and his fellow Poles."—Norman M. Naimark, Stanford University

"Andrzej Bobkowski's Wartime Notebooks offer a fascinating perspective on European history in the middle of the twentieth century, a brilliant young Polish intellectual in France reflecting on the fate of Europe, as Poland and then France itself were conquered by the Nazis. Bobkowski's detailed observations and philosophical reflections illuminate what it meant to be Polish, what it meant to be European, and what it meant to live, observe, and survive in Nazi Europe. The notebooks allows us to understand how Eastern Europe and Western Europe were related and reconciled in the understanding of one striking European intellectual, helping us to envision a more complete intellectual history of Europe as a whole."—Larry Wolff, New York University, author of Inventing Eastern Europe and The Singing Turk

“Stunning in the freshness of its perspective . . . Fascinating.”—Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times Book Review

“At long last, one of the most overlooked masterpieces of postwar Polish literature is available to English-speaking readers. Thanks to the praiseworthy efforts of Grazyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein and the Margellos World Republic of Letters Series at Yale University Press, we can now significantly extend the modern canon with a work that may change a perspective from which the general Anglophone audience perceives Polish literature.”—Michal Pawel Markowski, The Polish Review
ISBN: 9780300176711
Publication Date: November 27, 2018
704 pages, 6 x 9
20 b/w illus.
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