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Konstantin Paustovsky, a Russian writer who is not ranked with such luminaries as Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn but who nevertheless commands much respect, was born and intellectually formed before the Revolution. In his long career, he wrote short stories, plays, and essays, but his best writing is contained in the six-part autobiography The Story of a Life. Although he showed considerable talent as a fiction writer, he was much more successful when drawing directly from his plentiful experiences. No doubt his storytelling acumen served him well in writing his autobiography, because the accounts of his personal experiences often read like fiction. His flowing narration and his ability to experience deeply and thoroughly everyday occurrences gives his autobiography an aura of authenticity and immediacy.

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The Story of a Life is divided into six parts, coinciding roughly with important periods in Paustovsky’s life. The first part deals with his boyhood up to his graduation from high school. The second covers the interval leading to World War I and the first three years of it. The third part takes the author through the Revolution. The last three parts, Years of Hope, Southern Adventure, and The Restless Years, follow his life up to World War II. The chapters, of uneven length, usually present a well-rounded episode or story.

Paustovsky begins his autobiography by depicting one of the turning points in his life—the death of his father. Although the two were not overly close, this death marked the end of the boy’s happy childhood and the beginning of a life on his own. The first and the longest part of the autobiography features frequent flashbacks to his happy boyhood. Paustovsky describes visits to relatives in rural Russia and his attempts to adjust to their life. The recipient of their immeasurable love, especially that of his grandparents, he nevertheless felt somewhat apart from them. He enjoyed being alone; he also discovered early that he wanted to be a writer, but his relatives did not give him much moral support. His high school days are depicted vividly and with great warmth for his teachers and schoolmates.

Reared in an intellectual, middle-class Ukrainian family, Paustovsky led a life of relative security until his family began to fall apart shortly before the war; the disintegration worsened during the war, when two of his brothers fell in one day. Although he was not close to his brothers, their demise signified to him the depth of the familial tragedy brought on by the war and the Revolution. He himself was spared the worst because he was exempted from military service because of his severe nearsightedness. His ambivalence concerning the Revolution reflects the dilemma many Russians faced at that time. Paustovsky’s difficulties were multiplied by his growing desire to be a writer in such difficult times and by several unsuccessful love affairs. In the end, Paustovsky emerges as a promising young writer who had reached an understanding of the direction his country had taken and who steeled himself for the difficult tasks of an uncertain future. Thus, what begins as a personal account develops into a chronicle of an entire nation, reflected in the coming of age of a sensitive boy.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 15, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 63

Alexandrova, Vera. A History of Soviet Literature, 1963.

Bliven, Naomi. Review in The New Yorker. XL (January 2, 1965), p. 70.

Salisbury, H.E. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXIX (May 3, 1964), p. 1.

Sendich, Munir. “The Translator’s Kitchen,” in Babel. XVII, no. 3 (1971), pp. 10-21.

Slonim, Mark. Soviet Russian Literature: Writers and Problems, 1917-1977, 1977 (second edition).

Viereck, Peter. Review in Saturday Review. XLVII (May 16, 1964), p. 38.

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