top of page

Kirill Finkelshteyn
In the wrong body. The secret life of Nicolai de Raylan.
Moscow: IDRIS publisher.  2021; 416 p. 16+


                                        .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       


   We can assert with some measure of certainty that Anna-Nicolai was a transsexual, even though that concept simply didn’t exist in her/his time. When comparing the stories above with de Raylan’s life journey, we can see quite a few commonalities that, like the pieces of a mosaic, combine into a psychological portrait of our protagonist. From childhood on, Anya Terletsky began to feel like a member of the opposite sex with all the accompanying habits, aspirations, and lifestyles. Hence the external transformation, the visits to the athletics club, the involvement in the hussar unit, and the ostentatious masculine vices: a propensity toward alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and the habits of a textbook Don Juan. Nonetheless, Nicolai’s journal entries, poems, and other life details suggest that the guise of a crude drunkard, rake, and ribald ladies’ man concealed a sentimental and deep personality gifted with numerous talents: organizational, financial, linguistic, and literary ones.

   It’s difficult to say how Anna Terletsky's life would have turned out had she been unable to radically alter her fate. Most likely, she would have had to struggle against her insecurities by herself all her life and lead the drab existence of a provincial lady; she might have had to marry against her will and nature, and these ordeals would probably have ultimately led to her suicide. In any case, she would never have become Secretary to the Commissar at the World’s Fair, the Consul’s closest advisor, and the owner of a profitable law office, regardless of any talents.

   Were Anna Terletsky born a century later, she would have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and her life might have unfolded quite smoothly. But she came into the world in the 19th century, so he/she had to constantly monitor her speech and behavior, keeping all feelings hidden, camouflaging the body that caused so much distress, and living in a state of tension and fear of discovery. It is hard to call this a happy life… it had neither real love nor simple family joy, and much of it was fake.

   It seems that the main consolation of Anna-Nicolai’s life was that, living in the wrong body, she/he was still able to overcome nature’s curse and reach her/his goals:  she lived half of her life in harmony with her nature, in the guise of a man who became the head of a family, a dashing rider and hussar, achieved some status in society and became Secretary of the Russian Consulate. In fact, if not for his premature death far from home, Nicolai de Raylan’s secret would never have been exposed.

   At this point, we could close the book on our historical investigation; no other facts about Nicolai’s life besides those already described could be discovered. Unfortunately, quite a few circumstances of de Raylan’s life remain unclear: the details of his escape from Russia and journey to America, his participation in the Columbian Exposition and Chicago Hussars unit, his relationships with his girlfriends, and many other things. These questions could be answered by his friends, his colleagues, and his wives (Nicolai himself would hardly have shared his intimate secrets), but the relentless flow of time has long turned them all into dust. It would seem that Nicolai’s diary entries have also vanished forever. Even though they merged truth with fiction, they could have provided many interesting details.

   Nonetheless, dear reader, it is a well-known fact that “manuscripts don’t burn” and nothing disappears without a trace, so don’t be in a hurry to bid farewell to our protagonist!

Imagine if…


[1] In Russian, Anya is the standard diminutive form of the full name Anna.



bottom of page