Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: February 14, 2023
The Story of a Life
by Konstantin Paustovsky, translated from the Russian by Douglas Smith
An NYRB Classics Original
In 1943, Konstantin Paustovsky, the Soviet Union's most revered author, started out on his masterwork, The Story of a Life, a grand, novelistic memoir of a life lived on the fast-unfurling frontiers of Russian history. Eventually published over six volumes, it would cement Paustovsky's reputation as the voice of Russia around the world, and see him nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Newly translated by Guggenheim fellow Douglas Smith, these are the first three books of Paustovsky's epic for a whole new generation. Taking its reader from Paustovsky's Ukrainian youth, struggling with a family on the verge of collapse and the first flourishes of creative ambition, to his experiences working as a paramedic on Russia's frontlines and then as a journalist covering the country's violent spiral into revolution, The Story of a Life offers a portrait of an artistic journey like no other.
As richly dramatic as the great Russian novels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but all the more powerful for its first-hand testament to one of history's most chaotic eras, The Story of Life is a uniquely dazzling achievement of modern literature.
The quality of his [Paustovsky's] narrative imagination make The Story of a Life, the Proust-length autobiography he started in 1943, a masterpiece.
—Julian Evans, Daily Telegraph
In Douglas Smith's revelatory new translation of the first three volumes, late imperial Russia and Ukraine, the Revolution and the Civil War are observed with astounding clarity and originality... Smith's limpid and outstandingly readable translation finally captures this unique voice, and should assure Konstantin Paustovsky's monumental autobiography a substantial new readership.
—Polly Jones, TLS
One of the great Russian autobiographies, as fresh now as the day it was written - and the day it was lived.
The Story of a Life combines high drama with heroic misadventure in a comico-lyrical amalgam of history and domestic detail that enchants from start to finish. . . .The book is brimful of vivid character sketches, racy incidents and sharp-focused vignettes. Passages of striking lyric beauty. . . .The Story of a Life radiates a terrific vim and thirst for experience. A more gloriously life-affirming book is unlikely to emerge this year.
—Ian Thomson, The Spectator
Paustovksy’s gift is in vivid and humane presentation of the numberless figures who populate his life. . . . For Paustovsky, books are like stars in the darkness, and ‘literature draws us closer to the golden
age of our thoughts, our feelings and our actions’. He was, unquestionably, a part of that golden age, and now with this lively new translation of his memoir, he can be again.
—John Self, The Times
Paustovsky is neither sanguine, nor scathing about communist life, while his prose is highly observational, free from argumentation or theoretical prattle. Instead, he details the emergence of his individual consciousness, dedicated to writing, his country, and the cultivation of a rich inner life, which, set against the developments of early 20th century Ukraine and Russia, makes for a compelling ground-level work of historical testimony.
— Matt Janney, The Calvert Journal
A mid-century Soviet Thoreau.
—Joshua Yaffa, The New Yorker