I love it when I chose a book I've never heard of to read, by an author I've never heard of, and fall head over heels in love with it; reading this book was like finding a buried treasure. I have a special fondness for ponderous, rather existential Russian novels, and this one excels on that level. It is also a love story with complex characters and a suspenseful tension that had me totally captivated from the first sentence: “Of all my memories, of all my life’s innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I committed.” The narrator is haunted from that point on by this war-time killing, until years later he reads a short story that describes this murder, to which there were no witnesses, to the last detail. And the search for the author of that story begins. This book is a gem.
Of all my memories, of all my life's innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed.' A man comes across a short story which recounts in minute detail his killing of a soldier, long ago - from the victim's point of view. It's a story that should not exist, and whose author can only be a dead man. So begins the strange quest for the elusive writer 'Alexander Wolf'. A singular classic, The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is a psychological thriller and existential inquiry into guilt and redemption, coincidence and fate, love and death.
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.
"Like Nabokov at his best, Gazdanov teases his reader to trace the sometimes parallel yet often intersecting narrative layers, reminding us again that to read literature means, in many ways, to lose one’s mind." - Andrew Marzoni, Rain Taxi Review of Books
"Gaito Gazdanov’s elegantly crafted Proustian novel delves into the eternal ideas of life, death, and identity." - World Literature Today
"A masterpiece of modern literature... I haven'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, Die Zeit
"Gaito Gazdanov's compelling, clear, extremely civilised language breaks the resistance of even the most reluctant reader and most obstinate iPhone-addict. ... 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
"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
"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 ... A vase flies, shots ring out: and there we stand, in our hands the book of an author whose name we didn't know until now. Already it's a favourite book." - Jens Bisky, Süddeutsche Zeitung
"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
"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 Gorky
"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
"If Proust had been a Russian taxi driver in Paris in the 1930s..." - L’Express
"A work of great potency ... it punches very much above its weight, and I have a hunch that what's in it will stay with you for the rest of your life." - Nicholas Lezard, Guardian
"A mystery ... multilayered ... this is an original at work." - George Szirtes, The Times
"Quick-paced, taut prose ... rendered beautifully in Karetnyk's accomplished new translation." - Ivan Juritz, Independent on Sunday
"Elegantly eerie ... devastatingly atmospheric ... cool, wonderfully fraught." - Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times
"A mesmerising work of literature." - Antony Beevor
"It's as if the roman policier has been filtered through Dostoevsky... a finely wrought novel, tense and enigmatic, just waiting to be discovered by a filmmaker ... The narrator relates his tale in gorgeously cadenced long sentences ... like those of Proust ... Gazdanov owes a debt from the grave to his translator Bryan Karetnyk." - Lesley Chamberlain, TLS
"Coincidence, fate, guilt, redemption, love, death and melodrama are thrillingly interwoven with irresistible style and elegance." - Val Hennessy, Daily Mail
"Extraordinarily good." - Oliver Bullough, Literary Review
"Truly troubling, a weird meditation on death, war, and sex... Bryan Karetnyk's new translation makes you believe in the power of the original." - Lorin Stein, Paris Review
"A thrilling literary mystery... Gadzanov is a modernist master." - Mary O’Donoghue, Irish Times
"Gazdanov's elegantly eerie 1940s novel about an emigre journalist's ongoing trauma is tightly constructed and fast-moving... wonderfully rich in "cosmic catastrophes." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
"The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is a compulsive read, playful yet sinister, meandering yet impressively trim, old-world and modern. It is to Pushkin Press's great credit that this gorgeously restored relic, from an age when books could be spectral and slip elusively through your fingers, has been revived from untimely oblivion." - Daniel Levine, The Millions
"Splendidly translated... a mini-masterpiece." - Star Tribune
"Gazdanov's work is the perfect fusion of the Russian tradition and French innovation." - LRB
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