Gaïto Gazdanov was born in 1903 in Saint Petersburg. In 1917 he interrupted his studies and enrolled in the White Army. His exile took him to Turkey and then to Paris where he arrived in 1923. By night he worked driving taxis and by day he became a fiction-writer. In 1953, he moved to Munich where he worked for Radio Liberty. He died in 1971 without ever seeing his country again. His works, less publicized but contemporary with Nabokov’s, have been completely forgotten and are now being rediscovered.
A Russian-language writer in exile
“I speak only a little Russian, and badly, as I was sixteen years old when I left the country. But it’s my home and I cannot and will never be able to write in any other language than Russian.”
The writer Gaïto Gazdanov was born in France but would never be a French writer. In contrast to his literary rival Vladimir Nabokov who, with already a great body of Russian works behind him, switched languages and set about writing in English, Gazdanov himself never took that step. Gazdanov drew inspiration from two sources. Russian: his childhood, his early youth, the Civil War. And the other: French or, more precisely, Paris. These two currents, whose waters interflow but are always discernible, make up the distinctive character of his work.
A deeply ethical stance
Gaïto Gazdanov was contemporary with the great existentialists for good reason. He must have recognized himself in them. The sequence of events and their consequences are unforeseeable; no one is master of their destiny and only fate decides. But in his novels, more explicitly from The Ghost of Alexander Wolf onwards, we witness a total reversal of existentialist discourse. It is not that Gazdanov rejects its relevance but rather that he decides, given the consequences it engenders, to fight against it. Of course, chance is always there ready to destroy the best laid plans; but we nevertheless remain entirely responsible for our actions.