Restoring a Forgotten Russian Masterpiece: Konstantin Paustovsky’s Story of a Life
An online lecture by Douglas Smith
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. Douglas Smith has now published a critically acclaimed new translation of the first three volumes of this long forgotten masterpiece.
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.
In this talk, Douglas Smith will discuss what led Paustovsky to undertake this work, the specific challenges—and joys—of translation, and just what it is, in his opinion, that makes The Story of a Life a dazzling achievement of modern literature.
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About the Speaker
An award-winning historian and translator, Douglas Smith is the author of six books on Russia. His works have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He studied German and Russian at the University of Vermont, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and has a doctorate in history from UCLA.
Over the past thirty years Douglas has made many trips to Russia. In the 1980s, he was a Russian-speaking guide on the U.S. State Department’s exhibition “Information USA” that traveled throughout the USSR. He has worked as a Soviet affairs analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich and once served as an interpreter for late President Reagan.
Douglas has taught and lectured widely in the United States, Britain, and Europe and has appeared in documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC, and Netflix. He is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including a Guggenheim fellowship, Fulbright scholarship, and a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study Center.
His book Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy was a bestseller in the UK. It 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.
More information on Former People and other works by Douglas Smith can be found on his website: https://douglassmith.info/.
Connecting With Zoom
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This program will be recorded and posted to the museum’s YouTube channel.