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  • The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
  • Written by Gaito Gazdanov
    Translated by Bryan Karetnyk
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  • The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
  • Written by Gaito Gazdanov
    Translated by Bryan Karetnyk
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  • The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
  • Written by Gaito Gazdanov
    Translated by Bryan Karetnyk
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Written by Gaito GazdanovAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gaito Gazdanov
Translated by Bryan KaretnykAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bryan Karetnyk


List Price: $14.99


On Sale: June 18, 2013
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-1-78227-036-2
Published by : Pushkin Press Steerforth Press
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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.


Of all my memories, of all my life’s innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed. Ever since the moment it happened, I cannot remember one day passing when I haven’t regretted it. No punishment for it ever threatened me, because it occurred in the most exceptional of circumstances and it was clear that I couldn’t have acted otherwise. Moreover, no one other than I knew about it. It was one of those countless episodes of the Civil War; in the general course of contemporary events it could be looked upon as an insignificant detail, all the more so as during those few minutes and seconds prior to the incident its outcome concerned only the two of us—myself and another man, unknown to me. Then I was alone. No one else had any part in this.

I couldn’t faithfully describe what led up to the event because everything was such a blur, a mark of almost all fighting in any war, the participants of which least of all conceive of what’s happening in reality. It was summer, in southern Russia, and we were on our fourth day of continuous, disorderly troop manoeuvres, to an accompaniment of gunfire and sporadic fighting. I’d completely lost all concept of time; I couldn’t even say where I was exactly. I remember only the sensations, which could just as easily have been elicited in other circumstances—the feeling of hunger, thirst, terrible fatigue; I hadn’t slept these past two and a half nights. There was a torrid heat, and the air hung with the faint smell of smoke; an hour previously we’d made our way out of a forest, which was ablaze on one side, and there, where the sunlight couldn’t penetrate, a great straw-coloured shadow slowly pressed forward. I was so desperate for sleep; I remember thinking at the time that it would have been utter bliss to stop, lie down on the scorched grass and drop off, forgetting about everything. However, this was the one thing that I couldn’t do, and so I continued through the hot, drowsy haze, swallowing my saliva and periodically rubbing my eyes, which were irritated by the heat and a lack of sleep.

I recall that when we were passing through a small grove, I leant against a tree and, standing for what I thought to be only a second, I drifted off with the long-familiar sound of gunfire in the background. When I opened my eyes there was no one around. I cut across the grove and set out on the road, in the direction I thought my comrades to have taken. Almost immediately I was outstripped by a Cossack astride a swift bay horse; he waved to me and shouted something I couldn’t make out. After some time, I had the good fortune to come across a scraggy black mare whose rider obviously had been killed. She was bridled and had a Cossack saddle on her back, and she was nibbling at the grass, constantly swishing her long, wiry tail. As soon as I mounted her, she set off at a gallop.

I rode along a deserted winding road; every now and then the occasional little grove would obscure a bend in the track. The sun stood high in the sky, and the air almost hummed from the heat. Although I was riding quickly, I still have a false impression of everything happening in slow motion. I was still desperate for sleep; this longing filled my body and my consciousness, and because of it everything seemed lingering and drawn out, although in fact, of course, it couldn’t have been so. The fighting had ceased; all was quiet. I saw no one either behind or ahead of me. Suddenly, at one of the turns veering off almost at a right angle, my horse fell hard, at full tilt. I went tumbling down with her, landing on a soft, dark—because I closed my eyes—patch, but managed to free my leg from the stirrup and escaped almost unharmed by the fall. The bullet had hit her right ear and passed straight through her head. Getting to my feet, I turned around and saw, not very far off, coming towards me at what seemed a slow, heavy gallop, a rider astride a great white horse. I recall that my rifle had been missing for quite some time; I’d most probably left it in the grove where I fell asleep. I still had a revolver, though, and with some difficulty managed to pull it out of its tight, new holster. I stood for a few seconds, holding the revolver in my hand; it was so quiet that I could distinctly make out the dry sobbing of hooves against the cracked earth, the horse’s heavy breathing, and another sound, similar to the rapid jingling of a little bunch of metallic rings. I saw the rider let go of the reins and shoulder his rifle, which, until that point, he had been carrying atilt. It was then that I fired. He jerked up in his saddle, slumped down and fell slowly to the ground. I stood motionless next to the body of my horse for two or three minutes. Still I wanted to sleep, and that same agonizing weariness persisted. I managed, however, to consider the fact that I had no idea what lay ahead of me or whether I would even be alive for much longer, but the irrepressible urge to see just whom I’d killed compelled me to stir from my spot and approach him. No other distance, anywhere and at any time, has been as difficult for me to traverse as those fifty or sixty metres that separated me from the fallen rider; nevertheless, I walked towards him, dragging my feet over the hot cracked earth. Finally I reached him. He was a man of around twenty-two or twenty-three; his cap had blown off to one side, and his head, fair-haired, lay at an awkward angle on the dusty road. He was rather handsome. I leant over him and saw that he was dying; bubbles of pink foam frothed up and burst on his lips. He opened his dull eyes, said nothing, and closed them again. I stood over him and looked into his face, still clutching the now superfluous revolver with my numbing fingers. Suddenly, a light gust of warm air carried to me the scarcely audible clatter of horses’ hooves, and then I remembered the danger I could yet face. The dying man’s white horse, pricking up its ears in alarm, stood only a few paces away from him. It was a great stallion, very well groomed and clean, its back a little dark with sweat. Of particular note were the horse’s exceptional speed and endurance; I sold it a few days before I fled Russia, to a German settler who supplied me with an enormous quantity of provisions and paid me a vast sum of worthless money. The revolver I used to take the shot—it was a wonderful Parabellum—I cast into the sea, and from all this I was left with nothing more than a painful memory that haunted me everywhere Fate took me. However, the memory grew dimmer by and by, and with time it almost shed that initial feeling of constant, burning regret. But I was never able to forget it entirely. Many a time, whether it be summer or winter, by the sea or deep within the continent of Europe, I, mind empty, would close my eyes, and suddenly from the depths of memory that sultry day in southern Russia would draw once more into focus, and then those same feelings would re-emerge with all their former intensity. I saw again the enormous rose-grey shadow of the forest fire and its gradual progression amidst the crackle of burning twigs and branches; I felt that unforgettable, agonizing weariness and the almost overwhelming desire to sleep, the merciless brilliance of the sun, the ringing heat, and finally the mute recollection of the revolver’s weight in my grasp, its rough grip as if for ever imprinted on my skin, the slight swaying of the black foresight in front of my right eye—and then the fair-haired head on the grey, dusty road, and the face, transformed by the approach of death, that very death that I, only a second ago, had summoned out of the untold future.
Gaito Gazdanov

About Gaito Gazdanov

Gaito Gazdanov - The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
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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