Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

“The Beggar” - A Short Story by Gaito Gazdanov, first published 1962,translated from Russian 2018 by Bryan Karetnyk

Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure to  link you post on The event home page.  

There is still plenty of time to join us.

 There are lots of very interesting posts from food bloggers, Francophiles, travel bloggers, as well as book bloggers.  Normally I don’t venture far from the international book blog community so for me this event is an excellent way to expand my horizons. 

So far I have posted on

  1. “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” by Blume Lempel, 1978
  2. Vagabond by Colette, 1904
  3. Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles - 2018
  4. “Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - 
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid 2017
THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF
  1. “Cousin Claude” by Blume Lempel
  2. Taste of Paris:A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie
  3. “The Beggar” by Gaito Gazdanov, 1962

“The longer the emigration went on, the more our Russians resembled the notion we had of them. They flattered us by assimilating themselves to it. Their feeling of playing a part maybe soothed their misery. They bore it more easily once it was appreciated as literature. The Russian count as Paris cabbie takes his fares straight into a storybook. His fate itself may be ghastly. But it is at least literary......They all lost their way. They lost their Russianness and their nobility. And because that was all they had ever been—Russian noblemen—they lost everything. They fell out of the bottom of their own tragedy. The great drama was left without heroes. History bitterly and implacably took its course. Our eyes grew tired of watching a misery they had revelled in. We stood before the last of them, the ones that couldn’t understand their own catastrophe, we knew more about them than they could tell us, and arm in arm with Time, at once cruel and sad, we left these lost souls behind. By Joseph Roth, Frankfurter Zeitung, 14 September 1926. Reprinted in Hotel Years, a collection of essays by Joseph Roth translated and assembled by Michael Hoffman 

Gaito Gazdanov

Born December 6, 1903

1919 - age 16 - served in White Russian military unit as a machine gunner’s assistant

1920 emigrated to Paris, works at various jobs.  In 1926 he begins driving a taxi cab at night, he will continue this until 1953.  He was very active in Russian Emigrés Cultural circles.  During WW II he and his wife helped hide Russian Jews. He edited a resistance journal, at great personal risk.

In 1953 he became a broadcaster for Radio Liberty, moving to Munich.  This is considered now to have been a C I A project aimed at Russians in Europe. He worked there The rest of his Life while he continued writing.

He published Seven novels and some fifty Short stories

When he died in 1971 he was buried in the city he loved,

“The Beggar”, told in the third person is about a man who for years has slept at night in a crate and by day, a to all eyes a complete wreck, wanders the streets of Paris.  He eats scavanged food.  He speaks to no one and most pretend they do not see him.  We slowly learn his back story.  He was once a sucessful business owner with a wife and grown children.  One day he just vanished from sight.  Everyone speculated.  Did he leave for another woman, had his busuness come to ruin, had he committed a horrible crime?  Investigations showed his business was strong, his marriage sound, and his personal life beyond reproach.  

Here he is initially presented to us:

“High up, on the Elysian Fields, where in these winter months from four o’clock in the afternoon neon advertisements glow and the windows of the enormous cafés are illumined, icy sleet was falling, while down below, in the long subterranean passageways of the Métro, the air was warm and still. In the middle of one of these underpasses, always in exactly the same spot, stood an old man in rags, hatless and with a dirty-pink bald patch, around which, above his temples and above the nape of his neck, grey hairs protruded in all directions. As with the majority of Paris’s poor, he was dressed in some shapeless garb. Both his overcoat and his trousers looked as though they had ever been thus, as if they had been made to order like that, with those soft creases, with that absence of any lines or contours, like a dress or a great sackcloth robe that people belonging to another world, and not the one surrounding them, would wear.”

He wanders in a wasteland

“However, no one ever asked him anything. For many years, since he had become a beggar, one of the peculiarities of his existence had consisted in the fact that he had almost ceased speaking, not only because he lacked the urge to do so, but also because there was no necessity. Words and their meaning had long since lost for him their former value, as had everything that preceded his current life. One day he spotted a discarded newspaper: it was lying on the grey floor of the passageway in the Métro, and on the front page, in enormous lettering, were printed the words: “War in korea”. He looked at the newspaper with his dull eyes and marked neither the combination of letters nor their meaning. This war, which was being followed by millions of people the whole world over, did not exist for him, as nothing else existed, except for his own protracted delirium, through which he was slowly but surely moving towards death. Sometimes, when at night he would leave the Métro and walk through the deserted streets of Paris, across the entire city, towards a wasteland on the periphery, where there was an enormous wooden crate in which he would spend the night”

Slowly we learn why he preferred life on the streets to living in a lovely villa, with servants, books, music, family, and abundant money.

I do not wish to spoil this story by explaining to much.

There are five other stories in the collection, for sure I will read them all, saving one, I hope, for my participation in Paris in the Spring 2019.

Mel u

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