Arkady gaidar and his books

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Тranslated from the Russian

Illustrated by Yevgeny Shukayev

Аркадий Гайдар.


На английском языке.

First printing 1973

©‘Translated into English. Progress Publishers 1973
Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Arkady Gaidar and His Book

The School. Translated by Bernard Isaacs

Chuck and Geek. Translated by Leonard Stoklitsky

Timur and His Squad. Translated by Leonard Stoklitsky


Our era of great popular movements and sweeping historical changes has produced authors of a completely new mould whose lives were as eventful and heroic as the events described in their books.

In days of old, ships had a sailor on lookout duty all the time in the crow's nest, high up on the mast. His job was to scan the sea continuously and report what he saw. Only the most keen-eyed and dependable men were entrusted with this duty.

In days of old, mounted warriors on the march sent a horseman ahead as a scout. He was called a gaidar.

Arkady Gaidar was a keen-eyed scout, a man in the vanguard of Soviet literature. The pseudonym he chose proved to be an apt one indeed.

Both as a writer and a person Arkady Gaidar was a true son of the revolution, ready to give up his life to safeguard the happiness the people had won at the cost of so much blood, sweat and tears.

Arkady Gaidar, whose real name was Arkady Golikov, was born in the town of Lgov on February 9, 1904. Soon after, the Golikov family moved to Arzamas where, ten years later, Arkady watched his father, a schoolmaster, march off to war to the strains of a brass band and the roll of drums.

In 1918, when the young Soviet Republic was beating back the onslaught of numerous enemies, fourteen-year-old Arkady Golikov resolved that he, too, would join in the fight "for a better lot, for happiness, for the fraternity of the peoples, for Soviet power". Tail and broad-shouldered, he boldly gave his age as sixteen when he volunteered for the Red Army. A year later he finished a training course in Kiev and was put in command of a company. At sixteen he commanded a regiment.

The future writer Arkady Gaidar was in the thick of the fighting throughout the Civil War. He lost many close friends, he experienced the bitterness of defeat and the joy of victory. From early youth he knew sorrow and separation, aching wounds and the fire of battle.

When the Civil War ended, the young regimental commander, dedicated heart and soul to the army of the Land of Soviets, planned to remain in the service. But in 1923 an old head wound forced him to go into hospital. In April 1924, when Gaidar was twenty and had been in the Red Army six years, he was transferred to the reserve because of poor health.

The verdict of the army medical commission plunged him into despair. He wrote an impassioned letter of farewell to the army and sent it to People's Commissar Mikhail Frunze, the famous proletarian army commander. In his letter Gaidar did not complain or ask for favours; he simply bid farewell to the army. Frunze was so impressed by the letter that he asked Gaidar to come and see him. In the despairing lines of the letter Frunze had detected genuine talent and a maturing desire to write. He was not mistaken. Gaidar had started writing his first story, based on his experiences, about a year before. Frunze encouraged him to take up writing seriously. Gaidar's first stories appeared in print a few years later, between 1925 and 1927.

In 1930 he wrote The School, one of his best books. "Probably because I was only just a boy when in the army," he said, "I wanted to tell the boys and girls of the new generation what it was like, how it all began and what came afterwards, for I did manage to see quite a bit of life." The School is a largely autobiographical story about the school of life which the younger generation of the revolution passed through; about "the hot, fateful winds of time" and about the fathers and sons who took up arms to fight a just war for a happy future.

The first edition of this book was called An Ordinary Biography, and the title page carried a picture of the author in Red Army uniform, his tall fur hat tilted dashingly, a sword at his side, and a red star insignia on his sleeve. The hero of the book, a soldier's son named Boris Gorikov, who tells the story, is easily recognisable as Arkady Gaidar.

The School immediately became one of the most popular children's books. A truthful, wise book, written simply and sincerely, a book that does not hide life's worries and disappointments from its youthful readers, The School has gone through many editions in the Soviet Union and in other countries.

Arkady Gaidar did not live long enough to write a great deal. But books like The School, The Fourth Dugout, Distant Lands, Military Secret, The Blue Cup, The Drummer Boy, Smoke in the Forest, Chuck and Geek, his frontline articles and stories and other writings, including, of course, Timur and His Squad, a book that is widely known in many parts of the world, will always be favourites with boys and girls who gaze out eagerly on life and are impatient to understand it so as to find a worthy application for their youthful energies.

Gaidar wanted his books to teach Soviet boys and girls the meaning of such concepts as honour, daring and truth and to bring them up as soldiers of a "strong, red-starred guard".

Military Secret (1935), a book about friendship among freedom-loving nations, the lofty ideals of the revolution and the brutality of the enemy, includes a story, a kind of fairy-tale, about a boy who knew a military secret. It reflects a boy's perception of the new world that was being born and extols the valour of the pure juvenile heart which Gaidar understood so well. Before long, the tale acquired independent renown. When the Great Patriotic War broke out and the unprecedented heroism of the Soviet people, including children, astounded the world, people often recalled the grudging admission by the boy's main enemy in the tale in Gaidar's book: "What is that strange and incomprehensible country where even little children know the Military Secret and keep their word so well!"

This "military secret" or "secret weapon", as Gaidar's tale explains, is that the Soviet people, young and old, are a closely-knit family united by the great ideals of fraternity, meaningful work and devotion to their free country. Arkady Gaidar always spoke to his young readers honestly, earnestly and respectfully. He was forthright in pointing out "the most important things in life". He did not hesitate to write about subjects and problems that books for children usually avoid.

The Drummer Boy, written in 1938, is an example. "This is not a book about war, but it is about things just as grim and dangerous as war," said Gaidar.

For still younger readers Gaidar wrote a delightfully poetic story called Chuck and Geek (1939), a story about two little boys, brothers, who lost an important telegram and about a trip they made with their mother to the distant Blue Mountains to pay their father a visit. The story of their travels and adventures is told with classical simplicity and clarity. With its bubbling humour and engrossing plot the book became an immediate success. Behind the author's jovial laughter you feel his love for our vast country and its brave, strong people, his respect for their courage, and his faith in the goodness of the human heart.

The book's closing lines, now familiar to millions of children and adults, read like the author's main message to every Soviet citizen: "Each understood the meaning of happiness in his own way. But one and all knew and understood that they must live honourably, work hard, and love and cherish the vast, happy land known as the Soviet Union."

The men and women in Chuck and Geek, as in all of Gaidar's books, are good people. They are affectionate, brave in adversity, and know how to reach a child's heart with gentle, wise words.

No one knew the secret of those pure words better than Arkady Gaidar himself, a writer with the heart of a warrior who regarded life as a battle for justice.

In Timur and His Squad, a book that appeared in 1940 and came to occupy a unique place in the history of literature, he again spoke to children about the most important things in life.

Heartfelt admiration for the men of the armed forces and boundless youthful generosity, the keynotes of Gaidar's previous books, were strikingly expressed in the image of Timur, the boy knight.

Timur was a schoolboy, a member of the Young Pioneers, who thought up a splendid way of assisting the Soviet Army. He and his friends began to help dependants of men who were in the armed forces, but they did it secretly, so as to remain anonymous and to shroud their work in the aura of mystery so dear to children. Timur, an energetic, daring, big-hearted lad, devised ingenious ways of doing this.

No sooner had they read the book than thousands of Soviet boys and girls began to emulate Timur. Each wanted to be as honest, brave and useful as Timur. Not only did Gaidar's book become tremendously popular among Soviet children but, unlike any other children's book, it overflowed into life, as it were. A countrywide movement, known as the Timur movement, sprang up. Gaidar had shown children a simple and effective way in which they could express their glowing admiration for the Soviet Army, their ardent affection for their country's defenders.

Gaidar's great achievement lies in that he discerned the image of his Timur in the thousands of good deeds performed by Soviet children. He summed up the finest traits of the rising generation in an integral, lifelike character portrait illuminated by the ardour of a great patriotic idea.

Timurite, a word that entered the annals of the Great Patriotic War, lives on in the language and consciousness of the Soviet people and will forever signify children's patriotism, their desire to contribute to the people's victory over the enemy.

Arkady Gaidar's name holds a place of honour among the heroes of the last war, side by side with the names of fighting men, side by side with the names of scientists, inventors, engineers and workers whose labour and whose ideas armed the people during their just war for our righteous cause.

Gaidar's life itself was like a soldiers' song in which the sadness of the final words is dispelled by a rollicking refrain thundered by the chorus. Deserved recognition in his lifetime has passed into lasting fame since his death. Gaidar's writings, his own heroic life of dedicated service to his country and the revolution, and his fidelity to his vocation of author and educator will forever remain a lofty example of the writer's mission in the Soviet socialist era.

Illness frequently forced Gaidar to set aside his pen, but as soon as he felt better he returned to his writing and became engrossed by new ideas. The creative urge and his unflagging determination to serve his country put illness to flight.

In the autumn of 1941 Arkady Gaidar was a war correspondent on the Southwestern Front and then became a member of a partisan unit operating behind the enemy lines, in the forests along the Dnieper in the Ukraine. True to his all-absorbing sense of a soldier's duty, he turned down insistent offers of a plane to fly him across the front.

A large, strong army group that was fighting its way out of nazi encirclement urged Gaidar to join it but he did not want to leave his new friends in the partisan detachment.

The partisans liked and respected this strong, kindly man for his honesty, bravery and sense of humour. He was a first-class machine-gunner. In a battle near a sawmill Gaidar and two other machine-gunners held off a sizeable group of nazis. In the intervals between battles, sharing the partisans' life of deprivation and constant danger, Gaidar kept the detachment's diary and wrote drafts of several lyrical stories. They were written in the form of letters to his wife and son. Gaidar always carried them with him and would read them aloud to the partisans.

On October 26, 1941, accompanied by four partisans, Gaidar set out to reconnoitre the environs of the village of Lepliavo, near the Kanev-Zolotonosha railway. He went in the lead; here, too, he was a gaidar, a scout.

At dawn the small partisan patrol marched straight into an ambush laid by a large detachment of SS men at a railway crossing. Gaidar was the first to catch sight of the nazis. He realised instantly that the only way he could warn the men following him was by sacrificing his life. Pulling himself up to his full height, he lifted his arm high, as though giving the signal for an attack.

"Come on, men!" he shouted. "Follow me!"

As he dashed forward, furious bursts of nazi machine-gun fire rang out. The partisans flung themselves to the ground and returned the fire. Gaidar fell, never to rise again. A machine-gun burst had pierced his heart.

Later a trackman found Gaidar's body and buried it beside the railway. At night several partisans made their way to the trackman's cabin and told him about the man whom he had buried that day. The trackman promised to tend the grave. Within a few days everyone in the village knew that the famous Arkady Gaidar was buried nearby.

Gaidar died fighting, as strong and undaunted as so many heroes of his books. To his last breath he affirmed by every action the truth of every word he wrote.
Children in every town and village of the Soviet Union read Gaidar. His books were among the first to be sent to the libraries that were re-opened after the Soviet Army expelled the nazis from the regions they had occupied. Gaidar is read and loved by children in other countries too.

After the war, Gaidar's remains were transferred to the Ukrainian town of Kanev, where they were buried on a hill overlooking the Dnieper. A bronze bust of the writer on a high pedestal marks the grave. When you approach Kanev by boat you can see it from afar.

One cannot help recalling the fairy-tale that is a part of Military Secret, in which the young hero "was buried on a green hillock overlooking the Blue River".
As ships sail past they wave to the Boy,

As planes fly past they dip their wings to the Boy,

As locomotives race past they whistle to the Boy,

As Young Pioneers march past they salute the Boy.
Lev Kassil

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