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Posts Tagged ‘Gaito Gazdanov’

I discovered Gaito Gazdanov’sThe Spectre of Alexander Wolf‘ by a fortunate accident. I liked the storyline and got it and read it. The story told in the book goes like this. The narrator of the story is a Russian living in Paris. This is some years after the Russian Civil War is over and the communist government has come to power in Russia in the early part of the twentieth century. The narrator reads a book by an English writer called Alexander Wolf. In that book there is a story which is set during the Russian Civil War. This story talks about how two soldiers fought on the opposite sides of the war and one of them killed the other. The narrator is stunned. Because this actually happened. And he knows it because he did the killing. And there were no witnesses. The narrator realizes that the soldier he thought he had killed, is probably still alive. And that soldier must be the writer of this story, Alexander Wolf. So, our narrator goes in search of this elusive Alexander Wolf. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

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The Spectre of Alexander Wolf‘ is a beautiful story. It grabbed my attention from the first page and refused to let go. But it is not a conventional thriller. It is a meditation on life and death, love and loss. There are long beautiful passages throughout the book. If Dostoevsky wrote a thriller, this is how it would look like. The author of the book, Gaito Gazdanov seems to have lived a fascinating life. After fighting for the White Army in the Russian Civil War, he moved to Paris, did odd jobs, finally became a taxi driver at night and wrote during the day. He is as Russian as they come and the long philosophical passages in the book are a tribute to Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol and other Russian masters. There are also beautiful passages on boxing in the story and the depiction of one of my favourite characters in the story, Yelena Nikolayevna, is so perceptive, layered, insightful and beautiful. This book is one of my favourite exciting discoveries in recent times. Discovering a new Russian writer from the golden era is always an exciting event. I wish more of Gazdanov’s works are in print. I would love to read them.

I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“It began with my being attracted to two opposing things in equal measure : on the one hand there was the history of art and culture, reading, to which I devoted much time, and a predilection for abstract problems; on the other, so excessive a love for sport and everything to do with the purely physical, muscular, animal world…the discrepancy and sharp contradiction so characteristic of my life became all the more glaring as it continued. It was to be found between what I felt inwardly drawn towards and what I so vainly struggled against – the tumultuous and sensual root of my existence. It interfered with everything, it obscured those meditative faculties I valued above all else, it wouldn’t allow me to see things as I ought to have seen them, distorting them in its crude yet indomitable refractions, and it compelled me to perform a number of deeds that I invariably came to regret later on. It induced me to like things whose aesthetic insignificance I knew full well, things clearly in poor taste, yet the strength of my attraction to them could only compare with the simultaneous disgust I inexplicably felt towards them.”

Have you read ‘The Spectre of Alexander Wolf‘? What do you think about it?

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