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Sergei Sartakov: I fervently wish for universal peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Sergei Sartakov: No to eternal war

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Sergei Sartakov
From The Philosophers’ Stone
Translated by Fainna Glagoleva

From the preface

Of the many letters I received from readers after the Russian edition of The Philosophers’ Stone appeared, I would like especially to reply to two remarks that crop up time and again.

The first is that Victor and Timofei must meet again under different circumstance and come to an understanding.

The second is that the author must not leave his characters in midstream, as it were, especially since the events of the last chapter take place on the eve of the Second World War.

I always respect the views of my readers, and that is why I wish to explain my choice of an ending.

This is no problem as concerns Victor and Timofei meeting again. Those who wish for this are people for peace, not enmity. I am on their side, for I fervently wish for universal peace and well-being, for the happiness of one and all….I see a bright way of hope for the future, when each of the world’s citizens will be worthy of this proud name; when wars, violence, oppression and exploitation of some by others will vanish into the past, as have human sacrifices, the tortures of the Inquisition and the slave trade….

Man’s road on earth is not cut short by death. His work continues. His thoughts go on living. Besides, it would be most depressing to hear funeral bells tolling each time we turned the last page of a book. I am exaggerating a bit here, but is it not better to take leave of the main character at the point in his life when we know for certain that he will never disappoint our hopes and expectations?

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Victor spoke of the good life they had had in Omsk, where his father had been a lawyer. He had latter been called up, but had been a defense lawyer in the army, too. He had never been in the army before this, because he loved his people and did not want them to be at war….

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“All I lost was money, Colonel. And not all my money at that. But it was such an interesting game, Colonel.”

“I’ve seen men shoot themselves after such interesting games, Captain.”

Captain Stašek rubbed his temple, then cocked an eyebrow jauntily. “I could never really understand them. Cards excite me. They make me feel alive. Why should I kill myself? True, I lost. But I’d never give it another thought, Colonel. Actually, though, I don’t think one should play for money. And certainly not carry a gun while playing. Firearms rarely make one smile. They’re too dangerous.”

Colonel Hrudka shook his head with good-natured condescension. He carefully removed a piece of lint from Stasek’s sleeve.

“Would you mind telling me why you chose the army as a career then, Captain?”

“I really didn’t do the deciding, Colonel,” Stašek replied with a smile. “Besides, I always liked army bands and the spit and polish of parade uniforms. I had no idea that we’d soon be at war.”

“From which I can conclude that you were only too pleased to be taken prisoner.”

“Less pleased than I am now, when I’ve been released and am on my way home.”

“But you’ve killed men in action.”

“No, never, Colonel!” Stašek interrupted jovially. “Just imagine; not a single one. My conscience is clear. Naturally, I fired a gun but I never killed anyone. I was lucky.”

“You’re a very kind-hearted fellow, Stašek,” the colonel murmured as he flicked the ash off his cigarette. “Kind and, I’d say, lucky. You might have been forced to kill, you know. And if you didn’t, you might have been court-martialled for refusing. One can’t always fire off the mark. War is war. True, it’s all in the past now, and here we are, standing around in our undershirts.”

“I’ll do the same in the future, if I have to, Colonel. Fire off the mark, I mean.”

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