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My childhood by Maksim Gorky
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My childhood (original 1913; edition 1966)

by Maksim Gorky

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773918,078 (4.01)18
Member:jbarrier
Title:My childhood
Authors:Maksim Gorky
Info:London, England ; New York, N.Y., USA : Penguin Books, 1966.
Collections:Russian and Polish
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My Childhood by Maxim Gorky (1913)

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Showing 5 of 5
If you're looking for a plot of any kind, don't read this book.

With that said, this book celebrates the beauty of nature and at the same time indifferently reveals the often senseless cruelty of humans. Gorky--a celebrated Russian writer--writes autobiographically of his childhood with his Grandfather, Grandmother, and Mother. His mother is an absent figure for most of Gorky's childhood, be it physically or emotionally. His Grandfather is a practical man, stubborn, and violently abusive.

Grandmother is one of the two reasons this book holds value to me. She is the classic "wise old woman" figure in literature: accepting, loving, respected, and, of course, wise. She prays to her own mystical God, and this is what brings the story its praise of nature. Grandmother's God is a pagan god of sorts; he lives in the trees' branches as they flow in the wind, or in the blooming of the flower, or in the kindness of Gorky himself as a child. Gorky's writing on this topic lends itself naturally to the reader's fuller appreciation of these things, even if you may not (as I didn't) view them as "filled with God" but rather simply as beautiful.

Another facet of this novel that I enjoyed was Gorky's message: that, though Russia's lower classes may be riddled with violence and senseless, harmful actions, they hold infinite promise and wellness of heart deep within them. That Russian culture has spawned a generation of dynamic individuals that are in the midst a huge possibility of change. Though he doesn't quite state this outright, it came through to me as I read his autobiography.

I didn't rate this higher because it bored me to no end. It simply went nowhere. Gorky goes back and forth from his Grandfather's, to his Mother's; they move from one boarding house to another; he gets in trouble in one school and two pages later he's in a childish street gang, only seven pages later to be top student; I found it all hard and somewhat useless to follow because, honestly, the plot never reached any sort of resolution for me. (Weird, too: for me it's been three books in a row that I haven't fallen into any sort of love with. Unusual!)

Overall, though, a good read, and a great insight into Gorky himself if you're a fan of his other writings. ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
'My Childhood' by Maxim Gorky was published 60 years after Tolstoy's 'Childhood' and they make fascinating companion pieces. It is not Tolstoy's gentille, educated society, where money is only hinted at as a source of both pride and shame -- it is the coarse, hardscrabble world of the trade and lower classes. Children are not protected, but beaten to within an inch of their life as a matter of course. Drunkenness is expected and greed, prejudice and envy are commonplace.

Gorky knew this world well, and his memoirs (his protagonist uses Gorky's real name) are both agonizing and lyrical. His descriptions of place and characters are so deftly drawn that one feels as if he had included pictures in the book. Gorky manages to show us the love he felt for his grandmother, a gifted storyteller, but also towards his grandfather, a brutal and miserly man, who nevertheless taught Alexei to read, and supported his family as best he could, for as long as he could.

A wonderful and terrifying book. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Marse | May 9, 2015 |
This is a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, book. Gorky tells of his childhood up to about 11. "Gorky" is a pseudonym, meaning "Bitter", an apt descriptor for much of this autobiography, but oddly enough, the unremitting grimness is actually quite beautiful once you grow accustomed to his world.

The opening scene is of his father's corpse, dead of what sounds like cholera, lying on the floor with coins on his eyes, followed almost immediately by his mother's agonized delivery of another baby who soon dies. He and his mother go to live with his extended family in his grandparents' house, where beatings, drunkenness, and cruelty are normal, but so are storytelling, singing and occasional glimpses of beauty.

I broke off reading after about 50 pp for quite a while: Gorky was describing daily life and the arguments and abuse in his grandparents' home, and I just couldn't keep going. After a few weeks I steeled myself and returned, and found that much of the grim nature of the book was leavened by character sketches of tenants, friends and family, descriptions of nature, and, as Gorky grows older, his increasing resilience.

The book is seemingly naturalistic, but there is a lot of shaping going on, most obviously the repeated images of birds in cages, one of which, like Gorky, manages to charm as a survival tactic.

Highly recommended, although if you are sensitive, you will find this very disturbing. I am eager to read the other two parts, My Apprenticeship and My Universities, ironically titled volumes in which Gorky tells of his life as a vagabond after his family collapses.

One final warning: my cheap Google copy of the 1915 translation is badly formatted and somewhate awkward. It is probably worth it to spring for the Penguin edition. ( )
1 vote ipsoivan | Feb 13, 2015 |
A brilliant moving account of the very tough childhood of a revered Russian folk hero. The notions of resiliance and survival in spite of cruelty and deprevation spill form each page of this great account of life.
2 vote nickrenkin | Mar 24, 2012 |
Amazing insight into the mechanics of a tough, poor society. The perspective of a child has never been so blood chilling. An exquisite read. ( )
4 vote yuvalro | Nov 14, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (70 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maxim Gorkyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coulson, JessieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Güell, Josep M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuhlman, RoyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schneider, IsidorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wettlin, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilks, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A mon fils
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Father lay on the floor, by the window of a small, darkened room, dressed in white, and looking terribly long.
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Book description
Coloured by poverty and horrifying brutality, Gorky's childhood equipped him to understand - in a way denied to a Tolstoy or a Turgenev - the life of the ordinary Russian. After his father, a paperhanger and upholsterer, died of cholera, five-year-old Gorky was taken to live with his grandfather, a polecat-faced tyrant who would regularly beat him unconscious, and with his grandmother, a tender mountain of a woman and a wonderful storyteller, who would kneel beside their bed (with Gorky inside it pretending to be asleep) and give God her views on the day's happenings, down to the last fascinating details. She was, in fact, Gorky's closest friend and the epic heroine of a book swarming with characters and with the sensations of a curious and often frightened little boy. My Childhood, the first volume of Gorky's autobiographical trilogy, was in part an act of exorcism. It describes a life begun in the raw, remembered with extraordinary charm and poignancy and without bitterness. Of all Gorky's books this is the one that made him 'the father of Russian literature'. [Amazon.co.uk]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140182853, Paperback)

Coloured by poverty and horrifying brutality, Gorky's childhood equipped him to understand - in a way denied to a Tolstoy or a Turgenev - the life of the ordinary Russian. After his father, a paperhanger and upholsterer, died of cholera, five-year-old Gorky was taken to live with his grandfather, a polecat-faced tyrant who would regularly beat him unconscious, and with his grandmother, a tender mountain of a woman and a wonderful storyteller, who would kneel beside their bed (with Gorky inside it pretending to be asleep) and give God her views on the day's happenings, down to the last fascinating details. She was, in fact, Gorky's closest friend and the epic heroine of a book swarming with characters and with the sensations of a curious and often frightened little boy."My Childhood", the first volume of Gorky's autobiographical trilogy, was in part an act of exorcism. It describes a life begun in the raw, remembered with extraordinary charm and poignancy and without bitterness. Of all Gorky's books this is the one that made him 'the father of Russian literature'.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:04 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"My childhood", which appeared in 1913, is the first part of Maxim Gorky's autobiographical trilogy. The ordinary experiences of a Russian boy in the nineteenth century are recalled by an altogether extraordinary man, whose gift for recapturing the world of a child is uncanny. The second part of the trilogy is "Among the people" and the third "My Universities"… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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