Not a bad read but not life-changing. Jolts between different phases of the story in a not entirely convincing way. Left me a little disappointed.

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Dates 10 October 2013 – 19 October 2013
Time spent reading 3 hours, 20 minutes
Highlights 12
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He could play the piano and drink pure spirits; he loved women and never played cards.

The other women who passed through my life belonged to an entirely different category; they comprised part of a world in which I was always supposed to live, but from which I was so continually dragged down. They brought out my finest feelings, I believe, but it was all tinged with a sort of listless delight, leaving me each time with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.

In the quiet that descended, I could hear music coming from the apartment above, where someone was playing the piano very slowly and deliberately, creating the impression that great drops of sound were falling one after the other into molten glass.

She was humming some Spanish love song. It was one of those tunes that could have been composed only in the south, one whose origins could not be conceived of without sunlight.

every one of my affairs always contained some unnecessarily tragic element, and this was almost without exception through no fault of my own. I would often find myself grudgingly paying the price for one of my predecessors.

I knew myself that the normal, human ideas regarding the value of life and the necessity for a basic moral code—not to kill, not to steal, not to rape, to show compassion—had been slowly reasserted within me after the war, but they had lost their former persuasiveness and had become merely a system of theoretical morality, with whose correctness and necessity I couldn’t, in principle, disagree.

An enormous Negress had performed a belly dance with unusual artistry; as I watched her, she seemed to be made up of separate pieces of elastic black flesh moving independently of one another, as though the spectacle were taking place in some monstrous dissecting room that had suddenly sprung to life.

Every day, dozens of worlds are born and dozens of others die, and yet we pass through these invisible cosmic catastrophes, mistakenly supposing the modest little area that falls within our field of vision to be some sort of replica of the whole world in miniature.

It’s always seemed to me that life is somehow like a train journey: the slowness of individual existence, imprisoned within an impetuous outer motion; that apparent safety, that semblance of duration. And then, in a split second, a collapsed bridge or a loose rail, and that same termination of rhythm—death.

There are two things to which you’re never indifferent: food and women.

Perhaps he was right, after all: if we didn’t know death, neither would we know happiness. Without knowledge of death, we would be unable to appreciate the true value of our finest feelings, we would be unable to know that some of them are never to be repeated and that we can only understand them in all their richness at the moment they occur. Until that point we weren’t destined to do so, and afterwards it’s too late.

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf was originally published in 1947–48 as Prizrak Aleksandra Vol’fa in the Russian-language journal Novyi Zhurnal (The New Review), New York.