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My Childhood (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Sep 1990
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About the Author
Maxim Gorky was born in 1868 in Nizhny Novgorod. After a grim childhood and some years of wandering he began to write stories and by his thirties had become famous both for fiction and plays. He became involved in revolutionary activity against the tsarist regime in Russia and had a confused, difficult relationship with the Soviet dictatorship, partly living abroad and yet becoming the USSR's most feted and widely read author. He died in 1936 under suspicious circumstances and Stalin and Molotov were among the bearers of his coffin.
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How wrong I was.
It took me a few days to read "My Childhood", I have now almost finished the 2nd part "Into the world" (aka My Apprenticeship), and the final part "My Universities" is on my shelf, waiting for me.
It is up there with the greatest. Not only it is great literature, but we get to find out about the life of the people, of the have nots - something we don't see with most other writers for the simple reason that they didn't experience it...
I wonder why this book is not more famous, why the part 2 and 3 are out of prints...
It is a world full of brutal violence: husbands beating savagely their wives, severely and intensively flogging of children, gamblers becoming totally destitute, alcoholism, dangerous diseases (smallpox, ulcers) and cruel street games (cock and dog fighting, cat torturing, making fun of drunken beggars). Socially, there is a big chasm between the haves and have-nots: their children cannot play together. The poor cannot feed all their new born babies and expose them.
On the other hand, this bunch of `wild animals' is deeply, but primitively religious. They ask God constantly to forgive their sins.
Despite this barbarous environment, Gorky considers his childhood as `a beehive to which various single obscure people brought the honey of their knowledge and thoughts on life; often their honey was dirty and bitter, but every scrap of knowledge was honey all the same.'
There is also another reason why he put these painful memories on paper: `It is the truth and the truth must be known. The Russian man in the street is sufficiently healthy and young in spirit to overcome the horrors.'
Although he lost his love for his family and was thrown out of their home, he remains highly optimistic for mankind: `Life is always surprising us by the bright, healthy and creative human powers of goodness. It is those powers that awaken our indestructible hope that a better and more human life will once again be reborn.'
Gorky was received with open arms by the communists, but that love story ended in total personal disaster.
This brutal picture of the man in the street should remind us from where we all come from.
Not to be missed.
The contrast to the life of Tolstoy is striking, how ever the same straight forward writing and sensitivity are clear. The story is so bleak however that an appreciation of what good parts of his life there are is essential.
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