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In July of 1914, the Spanish novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez found himself on a boat traveling from Buenos Aires to Paris. The first signs of the upcoming war slowly became apparent. While the war unfolded, Blasco Ibáñez spent time in Paris. Around the time of the First Battle of the Marne, he received an assignment from Raymond Poincaré, then president of France. Poincaré complimented Blasco Ibáñez with his writing from the front and asked him to return to it, not as a journalist but as a novelist. His task was not to inform but to transform the narrative of the war in favor of France. Thus he wrote Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (The four horsemen of the Apocalypse).
Los cuatro jinetes is not a great book. It doesn’t come close to Im Westen nichts Neues or A Farewell to Arms. At moments it attempts to be War and Peace, but at 400 pages, it falls far short. It is also written during the event, lacking the benefit of hindsight.
There is, however, one scene that has come back to me in recent days. Blasco Ibánez has set up the book so that the larger conflict is played out between two sons-in-law of the same Argentinian landowner. One fights for the French (albeit reluctantly), the other for the Germans. Thus, the battleground is often turned into an extension of pre-war life where elites from half a dozen countries that know each other meet, mingle and murder each other.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about what (if anything) to say about Putin’s war against Ukraine. On Twitter, in moments like these, new voices come from the fringes that say the things that need to be said much more forcefully, passionately, and poetically than I ever can. And even their words fall short. Later, novelists will find better words.
I’m not a journalist, not talented on Twitter, not an expert, and not a novelist. Hence I considered it best not to say anything apart from this: I’m reminded of Los cuatro jinetes because the victims of the war in Ukraine (and many Russians) are friends and family of people I know, sometimes know well, and hold dear. Some of you, my dear readers, are in this category. This is a new experience for me and one that upsets me. Previously, war was always far away in place and time. Now, it feels like an extension of everyday life. I recognize this has been a reality for millions everywhere on earth forever.
I stand with all of them and will do what is in my power to support them. To support you. Please let me know if and how I can help if you need any. Slava Ukraini!