A Journey to Nowhere: Among the Lands and History of Courland – Jean-Paul Kauffmann (translated by Euan Cameron)

Commissioned to write an article, and carrying memories of the “lovely Courlandaise”, A Journey to Nowhere is Kauffmann’s account of the research trip he and his wife made to the Latvian province of Courland, not long after the Baltic States gained independence from the USSR.

For the most part the book is a travelogue in which we meet a German professor holidaying there with his wife and daughter, a Latvian would-be rock star but not the elusive ‘Resurrector ‘ – a French man who searches out graves of the Malgré-nous, Frenchmen from occupied Alsace forced to fight in the German ranks in World War II.

Other than Mara the “lovely Courlandaise”, Kauffmann’s girlfriend from a youthful sojourn in Canada, we hear precious little from Courlanders themselves – although there is many an observation of their aloofness and varying cultural explanations of this hinging on the history of the Baltic States, most recently the 20th century diplomacy that sacrificed them the the USSR, and the newness of their exposure to the society and cultural norms of the west. References to the Teutonic Knights and the Dukes of Courland abound, as do (often tenuous) connections to Kauffmann’s homeland, France.

The book was written in French, and many of Kauffmann’s cultural reference points eluded me and I reached the end of the book still waiting for deeper insights into and engagement with the inhabitants and history of this water bound land, a not so remote sliver of a seemingly lost Germano-Baltic world on the shores of the Gulf of Riga.

Publisher page: A Journey to Nowhere: Among the Lands and History of Courland – Jean-Paul Kauffmann