Melancholy and a longing for the country and the life they left behind are integral parts of the life of refugees. That becomes very clear in the book An evening with Claire by Gaito Gazdanov. This is the second book by this author I read, since I absolutely loved The spectre of Alexander Wolf (here).
This is the story of Kolja, who was in love with Claire but he lost her. After the Russian Revolution Kolja fled to Paris, hoping to meet Claire there again and he did.Claire is married, but her husband is away most evenings and then Kolja is with her. Only when he is with her in the evening, his memories of Russia, his youth and experiences during the Russian civil war when he fought on the side of the White army, come back to him.
An evening with Claire is not a long story, my Dutch translation had 176 pages. The writing style is beautiful, just like in Alexander Wolf, although less precise. This is logical, An evening with Claire was written almost twenty years earlier.
Very prominent in this is the longing for Russia and the world that has gone. You cannot escape the idea that Gazdanov described his own feelings here. After all, his situation and Kolja’s are very similar. They both fought for the White army, both fled to Paris after the war.
Kolja’s childhood and his parents are described in a very beautiful way. You can see his father who loved science and hunting so much and his intelligent and reserved mother before you when you read about them. Kolja is an observer and often cannot make sense of what he experienced or saw until later. He is not very interested in politics, but the Bolsheviks have no appeal for him. When the Civil war broke out, he choose the side of the White Army, also because he thought they would lose so they needed his help more. Thankfully there is the conversation Kolja has with his uncle Vasili, a retired army officer, who has a talk with Kolja just before he is off to the army, filled with wise life-lessons.
A beautiful story.
Original Russian title: Vetsjer oe KlerPublished in 1929