Page 22. " On the same day, at a waterside cafe, my father happened to notice, just as we were being served, two Japanese officers at a table near us, and we immediately left "

The Russo-Japanese war lasted from February 1904 to September 1905, and was fought over the territories of Manchuria and Korea. The embarrassing string of defeats of the Russian navy fanned discontent back home, and was one of the main catalysts of the Russian Revolution of 1905.

One of Russia's most popular folk songs, interpreted by thousands of singers since it was composed in 1905, The Hills of Manchuria, (Na Sopkah Manchurii) refers to the final land battle of the War, the Battle of Mukden.

Many silent films were made of the Russo-Japanese war, both using real footage and reconstructions. The most famous films made were by Thomas Edison, whose The Battle of the Yalu of 1904 was filmed in New York.

Page 23. " I was led down from the nursery into my father’s study to say how-do-you-do to a friend of the family, General Kuropatkin "
Aleksey Kuropatkin
Public DomainAleksey Kuropatkin

Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin (1848-1925) was the Russian Imperial Minister of War from 1898 to 1904. His reputation was forged in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, but suffered severe damage as a result of indecisiveness and disorganisation in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. He is still best remembered as the cause of Russia's humiliating defeat.

Kuropatkin learned of his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Russian land forces in Manchuria while showing Nabokov a trick with matchsticks at the Nabokov house in St Petersburg in February 1904. ("That day, he had been ordered to assume supreme command of the Russian army in the Far East").

Following an unfruitful stint commanding Russia's Northern Front in World War I, Kuropatkin was made Governor General of the Turkestan Military district. He ended his days an accomplished violinist in his home province of Pskov.

His writings, which include The Russian Army and the Japanese War and Kashgaria, Eastern or Chinese Turkistan: Historical and Geographical Sketch of the Country, Its Military Strength, Industries, and Trade are still valued as perceptive insights into tsarist military thinking.

Page 24. " he would then produce the then popular pacifist book Doloy Oruzhie! (a translation of Bertha von Suttner's Die Waffen Nieder!) and treat me, a child of six, to tedious quotations "

The rather formidable-looking Austrian novelist Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) was also a pacifist, and the first female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1905. Her most famous work, "Die Waffen Nieder!" (Lay down your arms), was a novel, and established her as a leading figure in the European peace movement.