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The October Revolution, Russia Occupation of Persia: WWI Soldier Viktor Shklovsky’s A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922
by Michael Carson
Book cover art by Dương Tường, Vietnamese writer and artist
“After the explosion our soldiers, surrounded by enemies, were waiting for a train to come for them; while waiting, they busied themselves by picking and putting together the shattered pieces of their comrades’ bodies.
They picked up pieces for a very long time.
Naturally, some of the pieces got mixed up.
One officer went up to a long row of corpses.
The last body had been put together out of the leftover pieces.
It had the torso of a large man. Someone had added a small head; on the chest were small arms of different sizes, both left.
The officer looked for a rather long time; then he sat on the ground and burst out laughing….laughing….laughing….”
----From Viktor Shklovsky’s A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922
Viktor Shklovsky; portrait by Yury Annenkov, 1919Why read Viktor’s Shklovsky’s Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922 a hundred years after the First World War? Why remember this account of the October Revolution and the Russian occupation of Persia when we have forgotten so many other accounts of the First World War, those charnel-house memories of gallant-British officers at the Somme and Ypres? What does this young Russian commissar have for us today except for yet another account of yet another endless bloody war that few remember now and no one at all will remember in a hundred years?
For one, A Sentimental Journey’s perspective on the First World War is unique—difficult—not simply because of its various, diverse, and relatively obscure (from an Anglo-American perspective) experiences but because of its form. Shklovsky writes in stilted sentences, delays information, mixes up chronology. He claims he only wants to report the facts. He wants to become a primary source. But he insists the facts must be reshuffled, drawn out, ironically juxtaposed, removed from their logical spot in one paragraph and placed at the end of the next. He has a terrible memory. Here is Shklovsky on his brother’s death:
“He cried hard before dying.
Either the Whites or the Reds killed him.
I don’t remember which—I really don’t remember. But the death was unjust.”
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