The Story of a Life

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New York Review of Books, Feb 14, 2023 - Biography & Autobiography - 816 pages
One of the most famous works of Russian literature, a memoir about a writer's coming of age during World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the rise of the Soviet era. This is the first unabridged translation of the first three books of Konstantin Paustovsky's magnum opus.

In 1943, the Soviet author Konstantin Paustovsky started out on what would prove a masterwork, The Story of a Life, a grand, novelistic memoir of a life spent on the ravaged frontier of Russian history. Eventually expanding to fill six volumes, this extraordinary work of a lifetime would establish Paustovsky as one of Russia’s great writers and lead to a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Here the first three books of Paustovsky’s epic autobiography—long unavailable in English—appear in a splendid new translation by Douglas Smith. Taking the reader from Paustovsky’s Ukrainian youth, his family struggling on the verge of collapse, through the first stirrings of writerly ambition, to his experiences working as a paramedic on the front lines of World War I and then as a journalist covering Russia’s violent spiral into revolution, this vivid and suspenseful story of coming-of-age in a time of troubles is lifted by the energy and lyricism of Paustovsky’s prose and marked throughout by his deep love of the natural world. The Story of a Life is a dazzling achievement of modern literature.

Selected pages


The Death of My Father
My Grandfather Maxim Grigorievich
A Trip to Chenstokhov
Pink Oleanders
Elderwood Balls
Svyatoslavskaya Street
The Midshipman
What Paradise Looks Like
The Forests of Bryansk
The Swarm
Water from the Limpopo
The First Commandment
Lime Blossoms
Just a Little Boy

Winter Scenes

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About the author (2023)

Konstantin Paustovsky (1892–1968) was born in Moscow and grew up in Ukraine. Paustovksy witnessed the breakout of World War I while studying law at the University of Moscow and went on to document life in Soviet Russia through a turbulent revolutionary period in his novels, novellas, and short stories. In 1965, Paustovsky was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Douglas Smith is a translator and historian, and has written several books about Russian history. His book Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy won the inaugural Pushkin House Russian Book Prize in 2013, was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and was chosen Book of the Year by Andrew Solomon in Salon.

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