My Childhood

The Book of the Week is “My Childhood” by Maxim Gorky, first published in 1913.  This slim volume describes the first sad ten years of Gorky’s life (1868-1878), although throughout, neither dates nor place-names are specified.  Gorky’s father died when he was very young, and his mother chose not to live with the author and her parents.  His (maternal) grandfather was physically and verbally abusive toward him and his grandmother.  Alcohol and violence flowed freely among them and his uncles, who ran a fabric-dyeing business.  Gorky felt his character was shaped by the “various simple obscure people” he met while growing up.  He learned to accept the way the Russians did, that “through the poverty and squalor of their lives, suffering comes as a diversion, is turned into a game and they play at it like children and rarely feel ashamed of their misfortune.”

His grandmother gave birth to eighteen children, but it was not made clear how many survived.  She frequently told him stories and advised him on culinary and religious matters.  Her meager income was derived by lace-making.  She had learned the craft at ten years of age from her mother who had become crippled.  Thereafter, they did not need to beg anymore.  Sometimes Gorky’s mother put in a brief appearance and later she quickly disappeared, leaving nothing at all to be remembered by.  He began short-lived bouts of formal education, and endured Bible-related and poetry teachings from his grandparents.  By the end of his first decade, Gorky had fallen in with a crowd of kids his own age with whom he hung out on the streets, and was taking care of a baby brother.