My Childhood - Maxim Gorky, Ronald Wilks NO SPOILERS!!!

Magnificent writing!:

I loved listening to those kind words and watching the red and gold fire flickering in the stove and milky white clouds of steam rising over the vats, leaving a dove coloured crust; like hoar frost, on the sloping rafters of the roof , where jagged chinks let through blue patches of sky. The wind died down, the sun came out, and the whole yard seemed sprinkled with ground glass. The screeching of sleighs came from the street, light blue smoke curled up from chimneys, and soft shadows as if they too had a story to tell.

The tall, bony Grigory, hatless, with his long beard, and large ears, looked like a kind-hearted magician as he stood there mixing the bubbling dye and continued the lesson:

Never be afraid to look a person straight in the face. Even the dog that attacks you will run away then……

Russian authors are the best – in my view. Their description of people, both in appearance and character, of places and events are unsurpassed. This is an autobiography, the first book of three, by and about Maxim Gorky. Tolstoy has also written an autobiography entitled My Childhood; their lives were very different. Gorky's portrays the lowest classes of the Russian people. It is not surprising that he became an enthused supporter of Marxism. Please read the book description if you are unaware of the basics of Gorky's life. Here, in this book, you see the events of the author's first eight years, through his own eyes.

Stories after stories – that is what you get. Gorky had a very frightening, terrible childhood. The suffering he describes is physical. Beatings, brawls, fights: and yet at the same time there are fairy tales and legends he has learned from his grandmother; he is close to his grandmother and her life philosophy inspires hope even during the darkest of times. When Gorky's father dies he goes to live with his mother's family, but even his mother cannot bear to live there. He is thus raised primarily by his grandmother……and grandfather. Although the grandfather is brutal, you see that he is also kind, well sometimes. The times are different; children are beaten, how else can they be taught?! Both grandparents are religious, but each in their own way. Both ways are vividly painted through Alexei's perception. The book shows how this child saw his world; it was utterly frightening and incomprehensible. You absorb his experiences through story after story after story:

I waited until the innkeeper's wife had gone down to the cellar, and then shut the hatch and locked it over her, danced a dance of revenge over it, flung the key onto the roof and rushed as fast as my legs could take me to the kitchen, where Grandmother happened to be doing the washing. It took her some time to find out why I was so delighted, and when she did, she gave me a smack in the right place, dragged me outside and sent me up on the roof after the keys. Amazed at the reception, I silently retrieved the key and then ran off to one corner of the yard, from where I could see Grandmother freeing the captive innkeeper's wife. Then both of them, laughing all over their faces, came towards me across the yard.

"You'll get it from me!" said the innkeeper's wife threatening me with her plump fist, but still smiling benevolently with that eyeless face of hers.

Grandmother took hold of me by the scruff of the neck and hauled me off to the kitchen, where she asked me: "What did you do that for?"

"She threw a carrot at you…."

"So you did it for me? Well! What a nerve. I've a good mind to put you under the stove to keep the mince company. Perhaps that will knock some sense into you.(

There are stories about everything, but they are all true stories: funerals where live frogs end up buried on top of the coffin, blazing fires, cockroach battles, people crushed under crosses…… Life was hard. One can understand why Gorky, or Alexei Maximovich Peshkov as he was really called, came to sympathize for the downtrodden tramps, factory workers and the poorest of the poor of Russian society. He lived from 1863 - 1936. His book "Mother" was the first comprehensive portrait of the Russian socialist movement. He was a friend of Stalin and was given a "Hero's Funeral" in the Red Square. But you should read this book for the marvellous storytelling, not for a summary of historical events. For that, look elsewhere.

I believe the following quote wonderfully expresses Gorky's view on both life and people:

In recalling my childhood I like to picture myself as a beehive to which very simple obscure people brought the honey of their knowledge and thoughts on life, generously enriching my character with their own experience. Often this honey was dirty and bitter, but every scrap of knowledge was honey all the same.</.i> (55%)

This book deserves more than five stars!!!