Arkady Gaidar – Two Biographies

Arkady Gaidar (real name Golikov) was both a famous writer and a Red Army field commander known for his courage and ruthlessness.

In days of old, mounted warriors on the march would send a horseman ahead as a scout. He was called a gaidar. Arkady Gaidar was a keen-eyed scout, a true son of the revolution, a man in the vanguard of Soviet literature. The pseudonym he chose proved to be an apt one indeed. 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 era.

Arkady Gaidar was born on 22 January 1904 in the town of Lgov, Kursk Region. In 1912 the family moved to Arzamas, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region. Ten years later Arkady watched his father, a schoolmaster, march off to war. Young Arkady ran away from home and tried to join his father at the front. Four days and ninety kilometers later, he was apprehended and returned home. In 1918 Arkady, then 14, decided that he too would join in the fight. Tall 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, heading a regiment at the age of only sixteen.

From his early youth Gaidar knew of sorrow and separation, aching wounds and the fire of battle, the bitterness of defeat and the joy of victory. When the Civil War, the standoff between the Bolsheviks and the pro-monarchist forces, was over, Gaidar planned to remain in service. But in 1923 an old head wound forced him to go into hospital.

In April 1924, when Gaidar turned twenty and had been in the Red Army for six years, he was transferred to the reserve forces because of his poor health. He plunged into despair. Arkady wrote an impassioned letter of farewell to the army and sent it to People’s Commissar Mikhail Frunze, the famous proletarian army commander. Frunze was so impressed by the letter that he asked Gaidar to come and see him.

Gaidar began writing his first stories in December 1924. They appeared in print between 1925 and 1927. He studied writing with the prominent writers of the time, who would literally break Gaidar’s work down into pieces, sentence by sentence explaining to him the rules and peculiarities of the genre as he eagerly absorbed their every word.

Following his demobilization, Gaidar married and had a son, Timur. However, the marriage broke up. In 1930 Gaidar wrote “The School,” one of his best books. “Probably because I was only just a boy when in the army, I wanted to tell 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.” ...

Gaidar, Arkady Petrovich. (Real family name, Golikov.) Born 22 Jan (9 Jan, Old Style) 1904 in the town of Lgov, Kursk guberniya, Ukraine, into the family of a teacher. He had three sisters, Natasha (b. 1905), Olga (b. 1908), and Katya. Although not yet members of the party, Arkady's parents--Pytor and Natalya Golikov--assisted the Bolsheviks in hiding caches of illegal literature.

In 1908, the family moved to Nizhni-Novgorod. To help with the family finances, Arkady's mother became a midwife-doctor's assistant. In 1912, when Arkday was 8 years old, the family moved to Arzamas.

When World War I began and his father was drafted into the army, the young Arkady ran away from home and tried to join his father at the front. Four days and ninety kilometers later, he was apprehended and returned home.

Back in school, he listed his favorite activity as "books". First among the authors he admired was Gogol, followed by Pushkin, Tolstoy, Goncharov, Pisarev, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.

After the February 1917 Revolution, Arkady's father, still in the army, was elected a regimental commissar, and then later a divisional commissar. He spent the entire Civil War at the various fronts. Arkady himself was also drawn to the Bolsheviks and helped the local Arzamas organization as a type of intelligence agent, gathering information on the streets and passing it on to the Party committee. On 29 August 1918, Arkady became an official member of the Party. In December 1918 he enlisted in the Red Army "to fight for the shining kingdom of socialism."

Arkady was sent to a school for Red commanders, but before studies could be completed, he and other students were pulled out of school and sent off to fight the various bands warring throughout Ukraine. On 27 August 1919, the commander of Arkady's company was killed, and Arkady, only 15 years old, was promoted to replace him. In December 1919, now a platoon commander on the Polish front, Arkady received a shrapnel wound to the leg. He was sent home on leave, where he contracted typhus. Around this time, his mother became a member of the Party, and his father was fighting on the eastern front against Kolchak.

After his recovery, Arkady returned to battle as a company commander, first in the Kuban, then in the Tambov region, where he was given command of a regiment engaged in the battle against Antonov and his forces.

Despite the squeaky-clean reputation which was later to spring up around Gaidar, there is evidence that, during the Civil War, he was responsible for some excesses, ordering and engaging in the execution of innocent peasants. These accusations came to the attention of higher-ups, and Gaidar was tossed out of the Party.

In 1924, shell-shocked and ill, Gaidar was demobilized. The scene then shifts to the Nevsky Prospect, where, Konstantin. Fedin remembers:

In 1925, a tall, well-built, light-haired, bright-eyed young man entered to editorial offices of the Leningrad almanac Kovsh. He laid several notebooks on the table and said, "I'm Arkady Golikov. This is my novel. I want you to print it."

To the question, had he written anything before he answered, "No. This is my first novel. I've decided to become a writer."

"And what were you before and what are you now?"

"Now I'm a Red Army soldier demobilized because of shell-shock. I used to be a regimental commander."

The manuscript Arkady Golikov handed over to Fedin was his first work, V Dni Porazheniye i Pobed ("Days of Defeat and Victory"), based on those whirlwind, post-Revolutionary days in Ukraine. The first to read it was Sergei Semenov, whose reaction was favorable, noting, "We can make a writer out of him [Golikov]." Fedin, while also encouraging, was a bit more blunt, telling Arkady, "You don't know how to write, but you can write, and you will write."

Fedin, M. Slonimsky, and particularly Semenov helped Arkady rework his manuscript, line by line, and the work was published. The reaction of reviewers was negative. Mikhail Levidov wrote:
We are interested with the question: On what basis did Arkady Golikov expect that any reader would enjoy his work? The subject matter? Instead of that there's a banal episode. The characters are not alive. There's no language, only grey dust.

The most positive review came from the journal Oktyabr, which described the work as slightly better than cliche. Golikov continued to write and produced his second work, R.V.S..

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