Appearing for the first time in English translation, these stories describe the struggle to find happiness and meaning in one’s life.
Gazdanov (The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, 2013) was born in St. Petersburg in 1903; during the Russian Revolution, he fought with the White Army before fleeing to Paris in 1920. There, he worked a series of more or less menial jobs, the longest lasting as a late-night taxi driver. When the Nazis occupied Paris, Gazdanov joined the Resistance. As for his writing, it has long gone overlooked, but a recent revival has begun to shower Gazdanov with the attention he deserves. This latest translation of his work into English collects a number of stories from Gazdanov’s early and late career, edited and arranged by his translator, Karetnyk. The collection is neither comprehensive nor representative, but, taken on its own, it forms a lovely little introduction to Gazdanov’s work. The stories range in date from the early to late 1930s; the last two were written in 1962 and 1963, respectively, just before Gazdanov’s premature death. In “Happiness,” a 14-year-old boy observes his new stepmother with suspicion; in “The Mistake,” a young woman grows bored with her husband’s “callous estimations of people, although they were almost always proved right”—to escape the tyranny of his “monstrous” intellect, she dives into an affair. In Karetnyk’s excellent translation, Gazdanov’s prose appears at the height of elegance. But as these stories reveal, that elegance can belie a certain heavy-handedness in theme and worldview. In “The Beggar,” Gazdanov describes “an old man in rags” who lives in a crate on the outskirts of Paris. No one would guess that he’d once directed one of the city’s wealthiest firms. “When everything he was obliged to do wearied and vexed him…he did retain one desire—freedom.” Gazdanov’s equation of homelessness with freedom may have aged badly, but his critique of power and wealth is more relevant than ever. We’re lucky to have these stories.
A fine introduction to the short prose of a modernist master.