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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Gorky's Loves




The writer Maxim Gorky gained mythical status even during his lifetime: He was "the founder of Soviet literature," "the creator of socialist realism," "the bosom friend of Lenin and Stalin," "the organizer of the Union of Soviet Writers." When he died in the summer of 1936, in the same Moscow country-house where Lenin had died 12 years earlier, Stalin ordered the name of "the greatest proletarian writer" to be carried by the country's third largest city (now Nizhny Novgorod), Moscow's main thoroughfare and 4,728 other streets, institutes, libraries, clubs and factories.


Only now, however, do Russian readers have access to an objective account of the life of Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, alias Gorky. The biography, Gibel Burevestnika, or Death of the Storm Petrel, which has already been translated and published abroad in various languages, is written by Arkady Vaksberg, vice president of the Russian PEN club.


The Russian-language edition gives a complex portrait of a man described by Vaksberg as "mighty and helpless, cynical and naive, disgusting and touching, perspicacious and blind: a proud man who self-confidently thought he could outwit the Devil but lost in the Devil's kitchen his bright, God-given talent."


Vaksberg leaves no stone unturned, especially concerning Gorky's remarkable personal life. Gorky's first wife, the nurse Olga Kaminskaya, lived with him for five years while maintaining secret rendezvous with her previous husband. Gorky was so jealous "he could have killed me on several occasions had I been less dexterous and adroit," Kaminskaya admitted.


Wife No. 2, Yekaterina Peshkova, gave birth to a son, Maxim, only for Gorky to abandon them both in 1904 to start a life-long relationship with the famous actress Maria Andreyeva. As distinguished Party members, Gorky and Andreyeva were even sent by their chum Lenin on a fund-raising tour to the United States.


Gorky's next liaison was with Varvara Shaikevitch, which led to the appearance of another child, Nina, in 1910. It goes without saying that Varvara was a married woman: Her husband and Gorky were close colleagues, and after the 1917 Revolution they all lived together in Petrograd. Gorky's next love, Maria Zakrevskaya-Benkendorff-Budberg, a double agent and the official life-companion of H.G. Wells, joined them in the apartment soon after. Daria, Gorky's last child but officially his granddaughter, was born in 1927 following a fling with his son's wife.


With such an intense personal life to look after, it was no wonder, Vaksberg comments, that Gorky had little time to think about God and his soul. The 400-page biography, published by Terra-Sport, costs 40 rubles and is available at most bookstores.