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After graduating from the Toulouse Agricultural Institute in 1934, Moscow native Alexei Nikolayevich Kochetkov undertook one year of compulsory military service in the Latvian Army. When he had fulfilled his obligation, he returned to France. Eager to continue his studies, Kochetkov enrolled in the National Agricultural Institute in Paris, focusing on plant pathology. It was his dream to return to Russia one day and use his education to benefit his motherland.
While dedicated to his studies and his work in the laboratory of celebrated biochemist Gabriel Bertrand, Kochetkov immersed himself in the politics and interests of the Russian émigré community. An ardent political activist, he disseminated a youth-oriented left-wing newspaper, frequented political gatherings, and celebrated Popular Front victories. He even participated in violent confrontations with extreme right-wing groups—activities that resulted in a deportation threat from the Parisian police.
Kochetkov paints a vividly engaging picture of student life in Paris during the 1930s. It was a heady time to be in Paris, and through his depiction of quotidian scenes amid the Russian émigré milieu, his studies, and his friendships the epoch comes alive. Kochetkov recounts the political meetings and discussions he attended, as well as his admiration for a female classmate and his sometimes humorous clashes with his laboratory mate.