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Alexander Grin: A hellish nightmare, or rather a horrible reality


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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Grin: How a little girl stopped a world war

Alexander Grin: How two leaders ended war


Alexander Grin
From The Poisoned Island
Translated by Barry Scherr

According to the tale told by Captain Tart, who had come to Akhuan Skap from New Zealand, and his statement to local authorities, corroborated by witnesses in his ship’s crew, the entire population on the little island of Farfont in the South Pacific agreed to and carried out a mass suicide pact – with the exception of two children, three and seven years old, who were left in the care of the ship Viola, commanded by Captain Tart.


“It was very hard for us,” said Skorrey, “to believe the words of Captain Brahms, who announced that Europe had been through a terrible war, while we, suspecting nothing, heard only the lapping of the waves and the rustling of the blossoming branches. However, Brahms showed us a newspaper which, though old, nonetheless convincingly said the very same thing.

“All night the captain and his comrades talked with us and initiated us – excited, shaken, and spellbound – into the very depths of the events. We found out that hundreds of millions of people had been involved in the war. We found out that many cities and entire countries had been destroyed. We found out that people fly in flocks on winged machines and drop bombs from above onto ships, houses, and forests. We found out that by means of a special asphyxiating wind the lungs of tens of thousands of soldiers are burned, and much else, and also that no one knew whether such a war would recur again.

“In the morning the captain and his crew set out for their ship to repair the damage while we continued to discuss what we had heard. Not one of us even thought of working that day. Each appraised the situation in his own way. Several averred that Brahms had not told the entire truth and that the war was probably continuing. Others asserted that a propitious time for pirates had arisen and that in all probability we would soon have to repel an attack. In general, we were suspicious and depressed. Each person was obsessed with presentiments and spewed out his conjectures regarding events in Europe we could only dimly imagine.

“Somebody – I don’t remember who – said that very possibly in a year or two we would remain the only inhabitants on the earth, since the belligerents would undoubtedly destroy one another with their monstrous inventions….”


“‘Look, look!'” shouted my sister just then, and, following the direction of her frightful glance, we saw that the entire sky was covered by rapidly darting, mysterious ships with a strange rigging of a type never before seen; it was reminiscent of a sailing vessel and in the air beneath it had appeared to be a reflection. A whistling and roar were audible from there, as were thuds and the prolonged ringing of bells; soon everything was covered by the smoke of firing, which resounded in our ears like a death sentence. Women fainted, ran into their houses, or sobbed. We men stood as if bound and lacked strength to move from the spot. Finally the last sterns of the monsters disappeared beyond the cliffs, and when we had again gathered together we could fearfully and woefully admit to each other our common despair. Nobody could explain what was happening. That night only the children slept.

“A month and two weeks passed accompanied with the same uninterrupted oppressive, ruthless, and threatening phenomena; finally we became half-crazed and thoroughly pathetic. We were afraid to go far from home lest we be left alone; work was abandoned; disturbing and oppressive dreams haunted those who had thrown themselves into bed to find rest; the children, who were frightened more than the others by the storm which had destroyed our quiet life, cried, as did their mothers, who had grown thin from the continuous fear; and we men, resolving to shake off the power of the warring forces, would make the rounds of the island together in order to convince ourselves that we were its sole masters, and every time that we became convinced of it would fall prey to still more acute despair. A dull, rumbling thunder resounded above our heads day and night; something like distant explosions cut people short in mid-conversation, and groans and howling – now quiet and plaintive, now loud, full of anger and pain – filled the air. At night a powerful cannonade could be heard in the west as if an endless battle were going on there: people who had come out to look at the sea saw dark masses of vessels of unknown nationality pursuing one another. We no longer knew any peace. What was happening to us? What surrounded us? We were tired of asking each other questions. Finally, one night when we had assembled in his home, my second cousin Allen Skorrey told us that he did not see any way out of our helpless situation except death: ‘We can neither stay awake nor sleep. We have fallen under the power of a hellish nightmare, or rather of a horrible reality, which has become totally elusive through methods unknown to us; cut off from the whole world, knowing nothing, innocent, losing our reason, we will soon go mad and fill the air with savage howls. Why? That we cannot know. I promise that we will die voluntarily.'”


In conclusion the author describes the island’s beautiful vegetation, its mild climate, and the unique enchantment of its unpretentious and harmless desolation; he ends his article with this note:

“These were the happiest people on the entire earth, who were killed by the echo of long-silenced salvos that are unparalleled in history.”

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