Maxim Gorky, My childhood
The book to read to understand Gorky's bitterness (Gorky means bitter in Russian).
He lost his father at a very young age, and he moved to a village to live with his grandparents. There he was exposed to the cruelty that was the norm of life for 19th cent. Russian peasants. He received very little formal education, was regularly subjected to sadistic floggings by his grandfather, and witnessed all sorts of vile things: his uncles' drunk indecencies, his grandfather punching his grandmother, and bitter fights for petty financial differences. His mother died when he was 11, Gorky had to live on his own after that. This is where the book ends.
This is a masterpiece of socialist realism, and in this sense it is partisan work written for the men and women of the early 20th century. Gorky wanted a book that was both relevant and understandable to the common folk of his times, that was typical of every day life without literary fancies, and supported the socialist cause.
Having said this, this book remains a valuable read today.Young Gorky's affectionate relationship with his maternal grandmother makes for some moving passages. Moreover, there is a lot to learn from this book if interested in the history of the late Tsarist Empire. I have the vanity to consider myself well read on this topic, but I was shocked by the sheer amount of violence detailed here. There are moments you catch yourself wondering, was it really that bad, how was this possible?
I had to read this is in a mediocre Greek translation from the French, I trust the Penguin edition fares better on this front.
Gorky with Stalin and Voroshilov