Viktor Shklovsky (VIHK-tohr SHKLOV-skee), the narrator, a Russian novelist, literary critic, and political émigré living in Berlin after the consolidation of Bolshevik power in the Soviet Union. The narrator is in love with the woman to whom he writes the letters that form the novel; she does not reciprocate the narrator’s feelings. She does, however, allow him to write to her as long as he does not write about his love. Because he cannot write what he wishes, he writes about what interests him: the theory of literature; literary friends in Berlin and in Russia whom he has left; descriptions of places; cars and the effect of technology on the world; the contrast between the life of bourgeois Europe, which Alya comes to represent, and the revolutionary culture to which he has become accustomed; and his bitter experience of exile. These topics reveal a man who values talent, wisdom, compassion, and magnanimity. He is ironic, witty, and imaginative, though he says that he is sick of wit and irony. He says that he is “sentimental” because he “takes life seriously.” It gradually becomes clear that the narrator’s passion for Alya is not so great as his passion for literature, as she is surely aware. In the last letter, he reveals his deep and enduring patriotism, asking his country to allow him to return home.
(The entire section is 575 words.)