Gorky's childhood memories brush a very outspoken picture of `that close-knit, suffocating little world of pain and suffering, where the Russian man of the street used to live.'
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.
This has to be the most moving of books as a diatribe on the stark brutality of life in pre-revolutionary Russia. Gorky has the ability to entwine, through his own experience, a sense of child-like wonder and adult cynicism into his work, making the reader feel genuine sympathy if not empathy through the authors gentle prose. He is an obvious "lover of mankind", with the ability to draw careful insight and allusions to his contempories and predecessors, whilst losing none of the driving force of this work. This book should be considered first and foremost as a brilliantly structured, in both diction and prose, heart-wrenching story and only afterwards should it be considered for it's political nature which caused the ludicrous censor of this text.
I have been reading Russian fiction for a long time, and somehow always thought that Gorky was not so important, that his past fame had to do with politics, that his qualities as a writer were not great. 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...
Gorky writes this chronicle of his childhood using the language and experience of adulthood, but with a vivid memory of how it appeared to him as a child, rather than as a adult. This allows us an appreciation of how he ggrows up and sees the world as he relates his childhood experiences. 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.
I was so excited to read my first book by Maxim Gorky (in translation of course). He is without doubt a genius and I will definitely read the rest of the trilogy. Because he is so matter of fact about the violence all around him it is easy to think he was unaffected by the terrible conditions he lived in as a child; yet at the heart of Gorky's life is a tragedy. It made him a writer but it also gave him the long fits of melancholy that he suffered from: he lost his beloved father - who had the civilising tendencies that were so missing from his maternal grandparents who reared him once his father died - leaving nothing but vague disjointed memories. Gorky probably inherited his writing talent from his father; unlike Tolstoy or Tugenev or Dostkoievsky (apologies if the spelling is wrong) he wrote about the poverty and squallor of the working class, knowing very little about aristocratic life.
I want to endorse the Amazon reviews that I have just read of this book - it is a marvellous work of literature, though the translation that I read on my kindle was sometimes disappointing and frustrating (and the multiple ways in which Russians refer to the same person can be confusing). But there is something else that has not been mentioned in the reviews I read - there are quite a few times when the God of compassion breaks through - in the humanity and love of the grandmother and (even more so) in Gorki's own compassion for people whom others shun.
Compelling reading apart from the constant confusion over the differing names given to the characters (I always have this problem with Russian authors!) It is a harrowing tale made more so by the fact that it is true.I shall endeavour to read the other 2 books from the trilogy but first I need to read something to cheer me up!