The spectre of Alexander Wolf Hardcover – 1 Jan 1950
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We decadent Westerners, who are finally allowed to read Gazdanov ... love his contemporary narratory style because it's now action, now reflection, and at the end there is always a perfect, but uncontrived, solution as in an HBO-series. ... Gazdanov teaches us with each line of his beautiful, sad, ambivalent prose that always drifts into the essayistic to love our beautiful, broken, neurotic lives.--Maxim Biller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
How each of us forms his memories is the theme of this novel. Rarely has one read about it as elegantly, as deeply and despite everything so comfortingly as here.--Tilman Spreckelsen, Frankfurter Allgemeine
A stroke of luck for the reader ... a novel which, on few pages, in scenes which one cannot quickly forget, deals with forlornness, enjoyment, distraction, with love, death and coincidence all that, which makes the human life beautiful and unbearable ... Already it's a favourite book.--Jens Bisky, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Fantastic, clever, precise and so thrilling, and at the same time modern in a cool way ... The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is a novel which can change your life. If you're prepared for the trip.--Georg Diez, Kultur SPIEGEL
One hasn't read such a humanely fine and moving novel about the great twentieth-century Ice Age of the Soul in a long time.--Iris Radisch, Zeit
The Spectre of Alexander Wolf becomes a study of the soul in the zone of death, written with a fine criminological sense, churning us up, gripping, exciting. --Andreas Puff-Trojan, Die Welt
Of course, you sense yourself that you are very talented. And I want to add that you are talented in your own, very special way. I can say this with some justification, because I have read not only An Evening with Claire, but also some of your short stories. --Maxim Gorki, letter to Gazdanov, February 1930
What saved Gazdanov as a person was Gazdanov the writer, who in his art transformed the unbearable reality of his life, his time and the society in which he lived not into a falsified, tacky image or into a philistine dream of a wonderful life, but into a metaphysical scream, which, because of its intensity and its sincerity, sounds into the deepest reaches of the human soul and moves and satisfies us through the power of its expression. In this sense Gazdanov s artistic style grants the wonderful life the shape of reality, of life, as it should be and as it only exists in art. --Laszlo Dienes, University of Massachusetts Amherst
"A lost classic" Sunday Telegraph
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Gaito Gazdanov (Georgi Ivanovich Gazdanov, 1903-1971) was the son of a forester. Born in St Petersburg and brought up in Siberia and Ukraine, he joined Baron Wrangel's White Army in 1919 aged just sixteen, and fought in the Russian Civil War until the Army's evacuation from the Krimea in 1920. After a brief sojourn in Gallipoli and Contantinople (where he completed secondary school), he moved to Paris, where he spent eight years variously working as a docker, washing locomotives, and in the Citroën factory. During periods of unemployment, he slept on park benches or in the Métro. In 1928, he became a taxi driver, working nights, which enabled him to write and to attend lectures at the Sorbonne during the day. His first stories began appearing in 1926, in Russian émigré periodicals, and he soon became part of the literary scene. In 1929 he published An Evening with Claire, which was acclaimed by, among others, Maxim Gorki and the great critic Vladislav Khodasevich. He died in Munich in 1971, and is buried in the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
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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