THE STORY OF A LIFE by Konstantin Paustovsky


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Paustovsky, with Ehrenburg, is one of the old guard literati who benevolently guide the generation of Yevtushenko & Co. Life is the first-part of a still-in-process multi-volume autobiography; it covers his youth in the '90's, his schooling in prerevolutionary Kiev and the Crimea, his adventures as a Moscow trolley worker and as a medical orderly during WWI, and ends with the chaos of the Reds against the Whites. It's an immense work, irradiated with a sort of lyrical realism, interwoven reminiscences in the mode of sketches and stories, rather like Chekhov, (to whom Paustovsky's novels owe so much), filled with masses of different people, details, descriptions and the criss-crossings of historical change. It is certainly impressive. Yet is it as great as some Western drum-beaters would have it, notably C.P. Snow who has spoken admiringly of the ""elegant, eloquent and sensuously rich"" prose? Yes and no. Paustovsky is best in the pastoral scenes of his childhood, in his awakening to the sad, strange world of his anarchist father and anguished mother, in his colorful catalogue of relatives, friends, puppy-loves and his own budding-writer fantasy-making. He is east authoritative, and frequently crude, when the events become public: at the battlefront, or the Bolshevik/Menshevik struggles. There the general pandemoniumthough vivid enough -- takes on an official-view-of-things such as a Sholokhov chronicle: Kerensky was like ""a nervous woman,"" Lenin like a god etc. And paeans to Russia all over. Ironically, that wasn't sufficient for Stalinists, and in the '40's when Life was published, he faced the charge of privatism. To a degree, and not for Stalinist reasons, Paustovsky's ""excessive impressionability and romanticism"" -- the phrases are his own -- vitiate what is a remarkably warm, life-filled, life-giving work. However, reservations aside, the most notable export from behind the Iron Curtain since Doctor Zhivago and Zoshchenko.

Publisher: Pantheon