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The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
on 22 June 2013
Once again, Pushkin Press have rediscovered yet another fantastic novel for us to enjoy. This slim book was written by Russian emigre Gaito Gazdanov (Georgi Ivanovich Gazdanov, 1903-1971). Like the narrator of this story, Gazdanov fought in the Russian Civil War for the White Army, meaning, of course, that his work was not published in Russia until after the collapse of communism. Again, like the narrator, Gazdanov found himself in Paris, where he suffered a great deal of poverty and worked in many different jobs - including as a cab driver - before becoming a part of the 1920's literary scene.
At the beginning of this book, our narrator explains how his whole life he has had a flashback of killing a man in that war. He was only sixteen when he was faced with a man on a beautiful white horse, who was about to kill him. Our narrator shot him first and left him lying there as he rode away on his horse. This so-called 'murder', muses the narrator, marked the beginning of his independence. Now working as a journalist in Paris, he comes across a book of short stories one day. In the volume, by Alexander Wolf, is a story recounting that day, down to the smallest detail. In fact, the narrator surmises that only the man he killed could have written it and begins a search for the elusive author.
This is a haunting novel of war, the emigre experience, love, fate and inter-twined lives. It will take you through 1920's Paris, London and is beautifully written. I am so glad Pushkin have republished this novel and can only wonder what other long forgotten gems they are going to come up with.