Book talk: Alexander wolf, real or a spectre?

My first Russian masterpiece! Or at least the first I finish, once upon a time I started reading ‘Lolita’ but I never managed to get through it. The spectre of Alexander Wolf is not typical ‘Russian’ as I always hear people talk about: long, loads of characters with many names and very intense. I’m still gathering the courage to start ‘Anna Karenina’.

However, my boyfriend got this book as a present, read it and gave it to me to read it. He specifically mentioned it’s not like Lolita, or other Russian literature so ‘I would probably like it’. He was right. The story starts in the Russian Civil War with an incident, which haunts the protagonist for the rest of his life. He moves to Paris, but can’t escape his past, especially when he reads a story detailing exactly what happened to him in the civil war, but written from the perspective of his victim.

The main character remains nameless throughout the book, which makes referring to him a bit difficult. Since the book is written from his perspective and he refers to himself as ‘ I’ it feels quite logical that you don’t learn his name. It’s written almost like it’s’ his diary, although for a diary it’s very detailed. He fought in the Russian civil war and at one point shot a guy. This incident has been haunting him for his life and he never manages to really forgive himself for it.

And only now am I beginning to think that perhaps not all is lost.

Gajto Gazdanov – The spectre of Alexander Wolf
Just a few

There are only 3 more main characters in the book besides the narrator:

  • Alexander Wolf, the writer of the book that changed everything for the narrator. The reason the narrator does everything in his power to find him and figure out what exactly happened in the war. Alexander is a very charming and handsome man, loved by many although he has a hidden, darker side.
  • Jelena, the girlfriend. The main character meets Jelena during a wrestling match, which he was attending to replace a co-worker. Jelena is from Russia, as all the characters are, and the narrator is quite smitten with her. She is however pretty emotionally distant and often has the narrator guessing what she thinks, and how she feels about them together.
  • Vladimir Petrovitsj Vozesenski. The narrator and Vladimir meet coincidentally but with a massive impact on both their lives. Vladimir spent most of his time in a Russian restaurant, eating and drinking vodkas. He’s described as a ‘Don Juan’ and often has female company.

Gajto Gazdanov has a quick, speedy style of writing and gets to the point quickly. The story flows through the pages and at times reminded me of ‘Beyond sleep‘. That, however, is mainly because of the focus on the narrator and the way he writes down his own thoughts. Besides this, there’s no real similarity between Hermans and Gazdanov. It is a style of writing that you need to like, otherwise it’ll get annoying and you might feel a bit rushed.

All in All

I liked the book, a lot. It’s quite focussed on what the sense of life is, how our experiences shape our life and goes a bit towards the philosophical question whether you can change your destiny. As for the writing speed, I liked it but my boyfriend had a bit more trouble with it. He had to take a break midway through, just to breath a little. It’s a great introduction into the Russian literature and an absolutely amazing read.