Category: Konstantin Paustovsky

book of books – Story of a Life


One of the most oft quoted pieces of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer is to focus on what you know. Sticking with that approach means that you end up with a genre of books that are semi-autobiographical but attempt to widen the story away from just one character describing the actions and thoughts of other people. Konstantin Paustovsky falls into that category along with the likes of Marcel Proust but what makes his work standout is its setting.

He has the benefit of using the Ukraine as a backdrop and is able to produce something that is not that far removed from Vladimir’s Nabakov’s Speak, Memory with a family on the brink of great change as the World War and revolution arrives. Those who support change from the luxury of a cosy middle class existence seem, just like in Speak, Memory, to be particularly naïve about what the future holds.

Plot summary
Starting with his father’s death from cancer Konstantin then traces back his family history to the age of about six or seven and then takes it up to his early twenties. In that time his family is torn apart by his father’s political views and an affair that not only divides father and mother but throws the later into poverty. His mother and blind sister become the two tragic figures not only because of their poverty but because Konstantin can only see them as barriers on his route to independence. Konstantin’s answer is to escape to Kiev and study and teach to get by and most of the recollections are about his experiences at school and the different teachers he encounters. But this is also a story about a country at the crossroads and the defeat against Japan in 1905 is a cause of national shame and the indications made by the Tsar in that same year that some concessions will be made around his autocratic rule lead to demonstrations which are then put down with troops and gunfire. But throughout all these stages the countryside is a constant and at the end when Konstantin is fighting heart break it is by focusing on the landscape that he manages to regain his happiness.

Is it well written?
It takes a bit of time to get going because things start backwards in the way you are introduced to a dying estranged father who is then used as a point at which to look back and start the story properly. The feeling grows though that this is a magical world of childhood that is supported and heightened by the environment and there is something that weaves in and out of the writing as another character and that is the steppe and Kiev. By the time the book comes to a close you want to rush out and see how the story of his life continued and that is the best way of indicating this book manages to grab hold of you.

Should it be read?
For those Russian scholars looking for another point of view of life in Kiev pre-revolution it should be added to the list. For those who enjoyed the role that the countryside plays in their works of Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Sholokhov then this can be appreciated. But for anyone who has ever been tempted to look back on their childhood and recall their first kiss, the first time they caught a chill after being caught in a thunderstorm and the memories of friendship with extended family and friends this should provoke memories that might have been lost at the back of the mind.

Summary
Growing up is a painful battle between aiming for independence and understanding the role the family, money and politics plays on reaching it

book of books – Story of a Life


One of the most oft quoted pieces of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer is to focus on what you know. Sticking with that approach means that you end up with a genre of books that are semi-autobiographical but attempt to widen the story away from just one character describing the actions and thoughts of other people. Konstantin Paustovsky falls into that category along with the likes of Marcel Proust but what makes his work standout is its setting.

He has the benefit of using the Ukraine as a backdrop and is able to produce something that is not that far removed from Vladimir’s Nabakov’s Speak, Memory with a family on the brink of great change as the World War and revolution arrives. Those who support change from the luxury of a cosy middle class existence seem, just like in Speak, Memory, to be particularly naïve about what the future holds.

Plot summary
Starting with his father’s death from cancer Konstantin then traces back his family history to the age of about six or seven and then takes it up to his early twenties. In that time his family is torn apart by his father’s political views and an affair that not only divides father and mother but throws the later into poverty. His mother and blind sister become the two tragic figures not only because of their poverty but because Konstantin can only see them as barriers on his route to independence. Konstantin’s answer is to escape to Kiev and study and teach to get by and most of the recollections are about his experiences at school and the different teachers he encounters. But this is also a story about a country at the crossroads and the defeat against Japan in 1905 is a cause of national shame and the indications made by the Tsar in that same year that some concessions will be made around his autocratic rule lead to demonstrations which are then put down with troops and gunfire. But throughout all these stages the countryside is a constant and at the end when Konstantin is fighting heart break it is by focusing on the landscape that he manages to regain his happiness.

Is it well written?
It takes a bit of time to get going because things start backwards in the way you are introduced to a dying estranged father who is then used as a point at which to look back and start the story properly. The feeling grows though that this is a magical world of childhood that is supported and heightened by the environment and there is something that weaves in and out of the writing as another character and that is the steppe and Kiev. By the time the book comes to a close you want to rush out and see how the story of his life continued and that is the best way of indicating this book manages to grab hold of you.

Should it be read?
For those Russian scholars looking for another point of view of life in Kiev pre-revolution it should be added to the list. For those who enjoyed the role that the countryside plays in their works of Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Sholokhov then this can be appreciated. But for anyone who has ever been tempted to look back on their childhood and recall their first kiss, the first time they caught a chill after being caught in a thunderstorm and the memories of friendship with extended family and friends this should provoke memories that might have been lost at the back of the mind.

Summary
Growing up is a painful battle between aiming for independence and understanding the role the family, money and politics plays on reaching it

book of books – Story of a Life


One of the most oft quoted pieces of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer is to focus on what you know. Sticking with that approach means that you end up with a genre of books that are semi-autobiographical but attempt to widen the story away from just one character describing the actions and thoughts of other people. Konstantin Paustovsky falls into that category along with the likes of Marcel Proust but what makes his work standout is its setting.

He has the benefit of using the Ukraine as a backdrop and is able to produce something that is not that far removed from Vladimir’s Nabakov’s Speak, Memory with a family on the brink of great change as the World War and revolution arrives. Those who support change from the luxury of a cosy middle class existence seem, just like in Speak, Memory, to be particularly naïve about what the future holds.

Plot summary
Starting with his father’s death from cancer Konstantin then traces back his family history to the age of about six or seven and then takes it up to his early twenties. In that time his family is torn apart by his father’s political views and an affair that not only divides father and mother but throws the later into poverty. His mother and blind sister become the two tragic figures not only because of their poverty but because Konstantin can only see them as barriers on his route to independence. Konstantin’s answer is to escape to Kiev and study and teach to get by and most of the recollections are about his experiences at school and the different teachers he encounters. But this is also a story about a country at the crossroads and the defeat against Japan in 1905 is a cause of national shame and the indications made by the Tsar in that same year that some concessions will be made around his autocratic rule lead to demonstrations which are then put down with troops and gunfire. But throughout all these stages the countryside is a constant and at the end when Konstantin is fighting heart break it is by focusing on the landscape that he manages to regain his happiness.

Is it well written?
It takes a bit of time to get going because things start backwards in the way you are introduced to a dying estranged father who is then used as a point at which to look back and start the story properly. The feeling grows though that this is a magical world of childhood that is supported and heightened by the environment and there is something that weaves in and out of the writing as another character and that is the steppe and Kiev. By the time the book comes to a close you want to rush out and see how the story of his life continued and that is the best way of indicating this book manages to grab hold of you.

Should it be read?
For those Russian scholars looking for another point of view of life in Kiev pre-revolution it should be added to the list. For those who enjoyed the role that the countryside plays in their works of Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Sholokhov then this can be appreciated. But for anyone who has ever been tempted to look back on their childhood and recall their first kiss, the first time they caught a chill after being caught in a thunderstorm and the memories of friendship with extended family and friends this should provoke memories that might have been lost at the back of the mind.

Summary
Growing up is a painful battle between aiming for independence and understanding the role the family, money and politics plays on reaching it

Story of a Life – post V

The book ends and you really want to carry on to discover what happened next. That is the sign that it has got through to you and the fact it does is testament to the likeability of the author. There is an innocence here that he hints at being lost through later events with friends dying in the world wars. There is also an acute understanding of what it means to be growing up looking for independence while at the sane time being fearful of what the world has to offer.

Bullet points between pages 254 – 277

* Konstantin gets an article accepted, his second or third, and he leaves Kiev in celebratory mood with his graduation also behind him and university beckoning and he sets out for a summer holiday he hopes will include a relationship with the neighbouring Lenya

* But she is not there when he arrives at Uncle Kolya’s and when she does finally turn up she is accompanied by a painter that is obviously intended as her partner for the summer so Konstantin buries his sorrows by throwing himself into the beautiful landscape

* Near the final couple of pages he has his Proustian moment when the art of writing is explained to him by a local chemist who wants him to understand that the key is understanding the needs of real people

“’This is a big thing you want to do, and it needs great knowledge of life. Right? At present you’ve got very little of it, if any. Do you realise how much a writer needs to know? It’s frightening to think of! He’s got to understand everything. He’s got to work like an ox and not think about fame. One thing I’ll tell you. You’ve got to go everywhere and see everything. Go to fairs, factories, night-shelters, peasants’ huts. And to theatres, and to hospitals, and to mines, and to prisons – everywhere. So that in the end life is distilled in you like valerian in alcohol. So that you get a genuine essence. Then you can offer it to people as a miracle cure. In specified doses of course.””

* The last page concludes with an understanding of his mission to understand everything and a longing to get as much of life as he can out of himself and his surroundings

A review will follow shortly…

Story of a Life – post V

The book ends and you really want to carry on to discover what happened next. That is the sign that it has got through to you and the fact it does is testament to the likeability of the author. There is an innocence here that he hints at being lost through later events with friends dying in the world wars. There is also an acute understanding of what it means to be growing up looking for independence while at the sane time being fearful of what the world has to offer.

Bullet points between pages 254 – 277

* Konstantin gets an article accepted, his second or third, and he leaves Kiev in celebratory mood with his graduation also behind him and university beckoning and he sets out for a summer holiday he hopes will include a relationship with the neighbouring Lenya

* But she is not there when he arrives at Uncle Kolya’s and when she does finally turn up she is accompanied by a painter that is obviously intended as her partner for the summer so Konstantin buries his sorrows by throwing himself into the beautiful landscape

* Near the final couple of pages he has his Proustian moment when the art of writing is explained to him by a local chemist who wants him to understand that the key is understanding the needs of real people

“’This is a big thing you want to do, and it needs great knowledge of life. Right? At present you’ve got very little of it, if any. Do you realise how much a writer needs to know? It’s frightening to think of! He’s got to understand everything. He’s got to work like an ox and not think about fame. One thing I’ll tell you. You’ve got to go everywhere and see everything. Go to fairs, factories, night-shelters, peasants’ huts. And to theatres, and to hospitals, and to mines, and to prisons – everywhere. So that in the end life is distilled in you like valerian in alcohol. So that you get a genuine essence. Then you can offer it to people as a miracle cure. In specified doses of course.””

* The last page concludes with an understanding of his mission to understand everything and a longing to get as much of life as he can out of himself and his surroundings

A review will follow shortly…

Story of a Life – post IV

The narrative becomes harder to stick with as Konsantin returns to Kiev because a lot of the wide open countryside that he describes so well disappears from view. So the minute he gets back out in the wilderness there is a distinct feeling of the landscape breathing again and the skill he has describing his surroundings is again accentuated.

Bullet points between pages 174 – 254

* Back at school Konstantin is immersed in the lives of his fellow students and joins them in various capers including one touching episode when the German master who has been writing an Opera for years loses it and all the boys get together and find it restoring the master to his happy self

* There is a reference to Mikhail Bulagov a fellow pupil who went onto become a famous writer and Konstantin makes the point that not only was it a time when greater writers were alive like Tolstoy but the theatre in Kiev was strong and there was a culture that encouraged creative thinking

* To keep his money ticking over he has to take lessons and ends up teaching a general’s daughter who is thick as two short planks but desperate to improve her education to make her more attractive to a husband

* When the holidays come and Konstantin agrees to visit friends of his brother there is a Robin Hood type character that steals from the rich and plagues those within the community that are seen as evil doers reminding you of the backwardness of the vilages

* he finally after a two year break visits his mother in Moscow and discovers that his sister is not only blind but going deaf and realises that he is now divided from that side of his family by distance and experience

* He spends New Year celebrating with an old friend that might become a love interest for the 18 year-old Konstantin and it is left as a possibility as he heads back on the train to Kiev and back to his life of independence

Last few pages tomorrow…

Story of a Life – post IV

The narrative becomes harder to stick with as Konsantin returns to Kiev because a lot of the wide open countryside that he describes so well disappears from view. So the minute he gets back out in the wilderness there is a distinct feeling of the landscape breathing again and the skill he has describing his surroundings is again accentuated.

Bullet points between pages 174 – 254

* Back at school Konstantin is immersed in the lives of his fellow students and joins them in various capers including one touching episode when the German master who has been writing an Opera for years loses it and all the boys get together and find it restoring the master to his happy self

* There is a reference to Mikhail Bulagov a fellow pupil who went onto become a famous writer and Konstantin makes the point that not only was it a time when greater writers were alive like Tolstoy but the theatre in Kiev was strong and there was a culture that encouraged creative thinking

* To keep his money ticking over he has to take lessons and ends up teaching a general’s daughter who is thick as two short planks but desperate to improve her education to make her more attractive to a husband

* When the holidays come and Konstantin agrees to visit friends of his brother there is a Robin Hood type character that steals from the rich and plagues those within the community that are seen as evil doers reminding you of the backwardness of the vilages

* he finally after a two year break visits his mother in Moscow and discovers that his sister is not only blind but going deaf and realises that he is now divided from that side of his family by distance and experience

* He spends New Year celebrating with an old friend that might become a love interest for the 18 year-old Konstantin and it is left as a possibility as he heads back on the train to Kiev and back to his life of independence

Last few pages tomorrow…

Story of a Life – post III

All of a sudden the chapter lengths creep up and you are immersed in a world of lavender smelling summer nights and bitterly cold winters. The movement slows down and the marking of time begins with the deaths of state heroes and the breakdown of the family.

Bullet points between pages 106 – 174

* There are a couple of announcements *that seem to bring the world to a standstill with the first being Tolstoy’s death and then later on Chekhov dies causing real despair and sadness to Russians who saw them both as almost immortal spokesmen for the nation

* With the promises of more freedoms made by the Tsar the students take to the streets and Konstantin’s brother is among them so Konstantin goes along to watch and is there when the army starts shooting at the demonstrators and the Cossacks come in with their sabres

* The family then heads to the Crimea for their holidays but Konstantin falls ill and has to stay behind with his mother and he falls for the charms of Lena a local girl who visits him with grapes

* His mother suddenly has to rush home and leaves Konstantin in the care of their maid and the great love affair with Lena is broken up by the older girl who tells him to head home without turning back

* Once home he discovers his father has left both his job and the family and they are now in a state of poverty and can only survive by selling off their possessions and so Konstantin is sent to live with his Uncle Kolya to protect him

* Finally his father remerges and gets a job near his son but the mother is on the move to Moscow and all Konstantin wants to do is go back to Kiev and be independent so he heads back to the City

More tomorrow…

Story of a Life – post III

All of a sudden the chapter lengths creep up and you are immersed in a world of lavender smelling summer nights and bitterly cold winters. The movement slows down and the marking of time begins with the deaths of state heroes and the breakdown of the family.

Bullet points between pages 106 – 174

* There are a couple of announcements *that seem to bring the world to a standstill with the first being Tolstoy’s death and then later on Chekhov dies causing real despair and sadness to Russians who saw them both as almost immortal spokesmen for the nation

* With the promises of more freedoms made by the Tsar the students take to the streets and Konstantin’s brother is among them so Konstantin goes along to watch and is there when the army starts shooting at the demonstrators and the Cossacks come in with their sabres

* The family then heads to the Crimea for their holidays but Konstantin falls ill and has to stay behind with his mother and he falls for the charms of Lena a local girl who visits him with grapes

* His mother suddenly has to rush home and leaves Konstantin in the care of their maid and the great love affair with Lena is broken up by the older girl who tells him to head home without turning back

* Once home he discovers his father has left both his job and the family and they are now in a state of poverty and can only survive by selling off their possessions and so Konstantin is sent to live with his Uncle Kolya to protect him

* Finally his father remerges and gets a job near his son but the mother is on the move to Moscow and all Konstantin wants to do is go back to Kiev and be independent so he heads back to the City

More tomorrow…

Story of a Life – post II

This book reminds you slightly of Life a user’s Manual in that it is almost like a collection of different tales and anecdotes even though they are connected to one single person. The reason for the comparison is that the scenes change here and there is a great deal of potential story that is just touched on before things move on.

Bullet points between pages 58 – 107

* As the story moves from Konstantin moving from the safe world of home to school he struggles to accept that he is growing up and finds school a bit of an ordeal made worse by one boy shooting himself in front of his class

* What makes it harder is the collection of teachers and older boys that alternatively strike the fear of god into the younger boys or make them uncomfortable with their strangeness including the geography teacher who takes a liking to Konstantin

* Konstantin goes back to his house and a younger woman is there and after he sees the teacher’s collection of odd bits and pieces she takes him for a drink and a cake and asks him what he thought of it and he replies that he liked the butterfly but is sad because no one sees it

* He then overhears his parents explaining to each other that the young woman was the old man’s wife and she has run away – the butterfly finds an audience – and as a result the old man gives up teaching and dies not long after encouraging Konstantin to carry on using his imagination

* One other tale is of a young woman who is skating with Konstantin’s brother and is seen dancing one night by the Prince of Siam who marries her and inherits the throne but the courtiers don’t like a Russian woman being queen and using ground up light bulbs are able to kill her after six months via internal haemorrhaging

* As all of these stories are told the beautiful countryside of Southern Russia slips by and acts as a backdrop to his education and exploration of Kiev

More tomorrow…