Gorky’s Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences

ntAlexander Nemser in The New Republic:

Book Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov, the future Maxim Gorky, was born in 1868 in Nizhni Novgorod on the Volga River, and grew up in what he later described in his melancholy, violent autobiography as “that close-knit, suffocating little world of pain and suffering where the ordinary Russian man in the street used to live, and where he lives to this day.” It was the world of the provincial petty-bourgeois — neighbors cut the tails off each other’s cats and sons besieged their fathers’ houses, knocking all night on the doors with fists and clubs.

Gorky was struck from the start by the chaos and the carelessness of the life that he saw around him. Many of the most lyrical passages in his autobiography describe the silences that followed the savage outbursts of his relatives. He remembered his lazy cousin Sasha, whose two rows of teeth were “the only interesting thing about him”: “I liked to sit close to him,” Gorky wrote, “neither of us speaking for a whole hour, and watching the black crows circling and wheeling in the red evening sky around the golden cupolas of the Church of the Assumption, diving down to earth and draping the fading sky with a black net…. A scene like this fills the heart with sweet sadness and leaves you content to say nothing.” The cruelty around him made him want to embellish and to correct what he saw. In his best work, however, he told his stories without ornament.

More here.