Alexander Grin was an average writer and very unhappy person. The lot that befell him was a short and difficult life filled with misfortune, hard work, and poverty. Beginning in childhood, he tried to protect himself from the banality and squalor that surrounded him, escaping into a world of make-believe. At first he relied on the fantasy worlds of others, but soon he started producing his own.
His father was a Polish nobleman who, as punishment for taking part in his country’s liberation movement, had been exiled to the Russian North, where he eked out a paltry existence. His mother worked as a midwife and administered the smallpox vaccine. The childhood of Alexander Grin (or rather Grinevsky, his original surname) was spent amidst disease, poverty, and animosity. “I did not know a normal childhood,” he recalled. “In moments of irritation, for willfulness or poor schoolwork, they called me ‘swineherd’ and destined me for a life of groveling at the feet of the prosperous and successful.”
Devouring one book after another, the boy dreamed of distant lands, of ships that would take him across the ocean waves. As soon as he was old enough, he tried to break free of his stifling surroundings. For a while he even worked on a ship, but he never managed to make it to distant lands. He claimed to have spent time in Alexandria, but who knows? Perhaps this was one of his tales. As he told it, upon returning to the ship after taking a walk through the city, he thought up a story about a beautiful Arab girl who gave him a flower with the words “salaam alaikum.” He also tried to convince his relatives that he had run off into the forest to join up with bandits.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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