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Konstantin Paustovsky: All conquerors are mad

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

Russian writers on war

Konstantin Paustovsky: Cervantes slain in war

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Konstantin Paustovsky
From Ilyinsky Waters
Translated by Kathleen Cook

Through the small round window I saw the yellow outline of an island looking like a thistle appear in the fathomless blue depths. It was Corsica. Later I learned that seen from above islands take on fantastic shapes just like cumulus clouds. These shapes are the product of our imagination, of course.

The jagged coast of Corsica lashed by the centuries and baked by the intense heats, its castles protecting the island like spiky thorns, patches of bright red shrubs, a torrent of deep blue Mediterranean light bursting through the invisible weir of the heavens and cascading in all its might onto the island – all this could not distract my thoughts from a small damp hollow on Ilyinsky Waters smelling like hemlock with a solitary thistle that grew up to your head – impregnable, bristling with prickles, its sharp couters and visor.

On the western shore of the island was a small town resembling a handful of carelessly scattered dice. It emerged from the wing of the plane like a honeycomb. This was Napoleon’s birthplace, Ajaccio.

“All conquerors are mad,” said my neighbour, a fat, jovial Italian in sun-glasses, glancing down at Ajaccio. “How on earth a person who was born and grew up in such beauty could become a mass murderer is completely beyond me!”

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