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on 9 December 2013
This is a truly astounding book. Gaito Gazdenov tells the haunting, humbling story of a young man caught up in the brutal fighting of the Russian Civil War and then laid low both physically and philosophically by a murder he believes himself to have committed. Having to flee Russia after the war, the narrator is living in Paris when he chances upon a book of short stories, one of which details a murder that seems uncannily familiar. The writer of the short story collection is Alexander Wolf and the narrator finds some purpose again in his life as he pursues the mysterious author and attempts to discover just where exactly fact meets fiction. The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is a gripping novel of war, survival and predestination. It's a thrilling mix of crime caper and existential angst and is one of the best books that I've read this year.
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on 2 May 2017
I would have given less stars, because there were bits left hanging, it all became a bit too philosophical for me in the second half, and a new character is introduced, in my view, in the wrong place. However, I thought the author has a wonderful way with words (or is it the translator? What a great job he's done) and his development of the love interest and their relationship is maybe the best I've ever read - we're not told, we aren't so much even shown, I didn't think, but are left to use our imagination, although that's manipulated of course. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book particularly. Fabulous first third too, BTW.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 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.
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on 19 October 2013
An enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I would recommend this to lovers of the Russian novel or to those who are interested in discovering it. Gazdanov's plot and characters are unusual but very believable (in particular the narrator, whose experiences were very similar to the author's own), and Karetnyk's translation provides a feeling of authenticity to those of us who are not fortunate enough to be able to read the original. Excellent.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 October 2014
Gaito Gazdanov is a Russian emigre, who chose the White side during the civil war and had to consequently flee, only to reemerge in the 1920s Paris, as many of his compatriots did. After many menial jobs at the breadline (Renault factory worker, cab driver...) he eventually established himself as a writer, with the current book being one of his greater post WW2 (1947/8) successes. Greatly admired by - amongst others - Maxim Gorky (not something many White's could claim for themselves) for his prose, it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to read his work in English (and in Kindle format, no less).

The story - on the surface - is a simple one. A Russian emigre residing in Paris keeps vividly recalling a war scene, where he shot a Red (Communist) compatriot riding a beautiful white horse, the only time he was sure of killing a man. When he reads a short story of that very incident from the other man's perspective, he becomes obsessed with finding its author and getting to grips with the episode.

All this is placed into an interwar Paris and the author skilfully blends very astute observations on war and its psychological burden, emigration, love and life in Paris in the period into a highly satisfying book. Even though he did not come to Paris with a fortune, like some Russian aristocrats managed after the ousting from Russia, and had to work hard for his living, his outlook is very different from that of George Orwell, who captures the same period in his Down and Out in Paris and London (Penguin Modern Classics). At least in this book there is much more of a philosophical / psychological component to it and less of a description of the world of the poor and unfortunate.

While some episodes in the book at first appear somewhat random and unconnected, they are all written beautifully and fit into the grand scheme of things remarkably well in the end. The ending may be perceived as a bit sudden but is sufficiently well prepared to be credible; at the same time it leaves enough open for interpretation to allow the reader some further pondering upon it after the book is read.

Overall a remarkable book, in some ways reminding me of Friedrich Dürrenmatt (for instance The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: "The Judge and His Hangman" and "Suspicion") and definitely to be recommended.
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on 28 March 2014
This book starts very well, with a vivid opening scene that seems to promise a psychological mystery in a Dostoyevskian mould. Maybe that was the problem for me, that my expectations were too high. Because after that, the narrative just seems to meander, as the incredibly passive narrator wanders through life, introducing threads here and there which you think might connect up to something, but which turn out not to. Some people have conversations. One or two of them die. Then it ends. Does that add up to anything? Not to me. It's very well written. That's not enough.
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on 4 August 2013
This is an incredibly gripping story based around the experience of a young man during the Russian Civil War and the later effects this has on his life in Paris as an emigre. The author delves into the realms of existentialism, fatalism and ideas of pre-destination, while keeping a markedly brisk pace in the novel's page-turning plot. It isn't exactly a whodunit, or even a whydunit, but more of a retrospective am-I-destined-to-do-it.

The style of the book is eclectic, mixing the philosophical, the murder-mystery, the thriller and even a hint of satire and comedy, while the language itself is lively and elegant throughout. A true Russian classic!
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on 27 October 2013
THE SPECTRE OF ALEXANDER WOLF
By Gaito Gazdanov / Pushkin Press

Seduced by the exceptional visual and tactile quality of both design and paper I picked up this small book by instinct, knowing nothing at all about its author. It was the kind of experience one can only have in a bookshop while browsing. I would never have disovered this book or its author; no amount of imaging or blurb on the net would have had the same response from a book buyer.

Gaito Gazdanov wrote in Russian. He fled his homeland, landing in Paris after having fought with the White Army aged just sixteen. This novel felt a little more like a short story which had been expanded, but it is none the worse for it. At no point does the author allow the tension to drop. A young Russian soldier roams aimlessly across the battlefields of the Russian steppes. A lone rider shoots his horse. Delirious from heat, thirst and exhaustion, he in turn shoots the enemy soldier and rides off on the latter's white stallion. Years later he finds the exact account of his `murder', retold by an apparently English author by the name of Alexander Wolf. Is this a coincidence or did the man survive the shooting and has changed his name? The search to meet the author begins.
Gazdanov's life as a refugee in Paris in the 1920s brought long periods of unemployment, sleeping on park benches or in the Metro. When he finally became a night time taxi driver he had the money and time to attend lectures at the Sorbonne and write in the daytime; he quickly became part of the Paris literary scene.
Bryan Karetnyk's translation of the Russian original could not be bettered. It is sensitive, thoughtful, lyrical and precise. Gazdanov was a fan of Nabokov long before the latter became famous; there are echoes of Nabokov who had also fled Russia after the defeat of the White Army in 1919. I could well imagine that a good translation into German would see similarities with the beauty of Hermann Hesse or Patrick Suskind's writing, in a good French translation there might be some resemblance with the best of Proust.
This is not `a page-turner' in the usual sense - one turns the pages long after one had meant to close the book to get on with one's own life. Nor is it a crime novel, rather the story of a predestined killing.
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on 7 August 2014
Gaito Gazdanov is at last starting to earn the international recognition that his precise, elegantly mysterious prose deserves. He was not exactly unknown in his lifetime, but Soviet publishers were under orders to ignore him and western European and US critics thought Nabokov was a superior writer. In some ways that assessment is fair enough - but 'The Spectre of Alexander Wolf' is at least as good as anything Nabokov wrote. Full of piercing insights into fate, chance, love, death and other aspects of the human condition, it also works well as a mystery story with strange twists and turns.
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on 25 July 2013
This is a thought provoking read. I thought the writing style was precise. The author addresses the question of mortality and fate. I hadn't heard of this writer. I'll look out for more of his stuff as I think he may have been somewhat overlooked.
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