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..
Golikov then decided to travel, to work and study life. A friend invited him to Perm to work on the Party newspaper Zvezda. He accepted the offer and on 7 November 1925, the 8th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the paper printed his story Uglovoi Dom ("House on the Corner"), and for the first time he used the pen-name of Gaidar.
Gaidar never explained how he arrived at this pseudonym, but one theory relies on the fact that, while in school, he studied French and always enjoyed peppering his speech with French words. Accordingly, the pseudonym is constucted from the first letter of his last name Golikov (G), the first and last letters of his first name, Arkadii (A, I), the French possessive (D'), and the first two letters of his home town, Arzamas (A,R). In short, G-AI-D-AR = Golikov-Arkadii-From-Arzamas.
Gaidar produced mainly feuilletons for Zvezda, which printed 115 of them between 1925 and 1927. He was even sentenced to a week in jail for one which displeased a local court investigator. In addition, Gaidar wrote 13 stories, 12 sketches, and four tales for the paper.
Gaidar then went wandering again. Between December 1928 and February 1930, he was working in the north for the Arkhangel paper Volna. It was here in the north that he wrote Chetvyorti Blindazh ("Fourth Dug-out"), a tale about some children being accidentally exposed to artillery fire. In addition, he scored a major success with publication of the semi-autobiographical tale Shkola ("School", 1930), which recounted the stern, heroic school of life through which the children of the Revolution passed.
Following his demobilization, Gaidar had married and had a son, Timur. However, the marriage broke up and in 1931 Gaidar moved to Khaborovsk to work for the newspaper Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda. It became apparent to his co-workers there that the horrors of the Civil War had left their mark on Gaidar's psyche. He suffered from alcoholism and depression and even attempted suicide. He was capable of great rage and once, in a fit of anger, smashed up an apartment. His friends persuaded him to seek help at a local psychiatric hospital, but Gaidar had trouble getting admitted, because the doctor had never before heard of someone turning himself in voluntarily.
1932 saw the publication of Dalniye Strany ("Distant Lands"), a story in which the hum of construction comes to a backwoods village, where the children dream of distant lands.
Gaidar is considered one of the founders of Soviet children's literature. He was a firm believer in Communism and felt it important to convey a message in his works. Gaidar's grandson, the perestroika-era economist and politician Yegor Gaidar, has this to say about his grandfather's sense of mission:
My grandfather's sense of his world was shot through with premonitions of another terrible war soon to come. And so he considered it his duty as a writer to prepare young readers for the grave trials ahead. It would be a fierce fight; they would need all their strength in the struggle against the enemy.
A good example of this thinking can be found in Gaidar's Skazka o Voennoi Taine ("Tale of the Military Secret", 1935). In this story, the peaceful Soviet motherland is subjected to a perfidious sneak attack by bourgeois forces. As the Soviet fathers and older brothers are killed, little children have to join the battle. One such child is the Malchik-Kilbachish. He is captured and tortured, but remains true to his word and does not reveal the great military secret of what makes the motherland and the workers of the world so strong. His bravery gives the Red Army the time it needs to ride to the rescue.
Other works by Gaidar include Vsadniki NepNep Gor ("Horsemen of the Inaccessible Hills"). Golubaya Chashka ("Blue Cup"), Sudba Barabanshchika ("Fate of the Drummer"), Dym v Lesu ("Smoke in the Forest"), and Chuk i Gek.
Gaidar's most lasting contribution is the tale Timur i evo Komanda ("Timur and His Team", 1940). It is the story of a gang of kids who sneak around a village secretly doing good deeds, protecting families whose fathers and husbands are in the Red Army, and doing battle against nasty hooligans. This story was part of the curriculum in every Soviet school even up into the 1990s.
On the second day of the Great Patriotic War, Gaidar was given an emergency assignment. He was to write the screenplay for the patriotic film Klyatva Timura ("Timur's Vow"). He was given 15 days to complete the job. He took only 12 days.
Immediately upon finishing the script, Gaidar volunteered to reenlist in the army and be sent to the front. This request was refused. Instead, he found his way to the front as a war correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda. The detachment he was with became surrounded by fascist forces, but Gaidar refused evacuation and fought on as a machine gunner. He was killed in battle near the Ukrainian village of Lyaplyavaya on 26 October 1941. That, at least, is the official story. In 1979, Soviet journalist Viktor Glushchenko discovered a woman named Khristya Kuzmenko in the village of Tulintsa, who claimed that Gaidar and another comrade had escaped the encirclement and spent the winter hiding out in her home. According to Kuzmenko, who sought neither fame nor reward, Gaidar left only in the spring of 1942, hoping to make it back to Soviet lines. In attempting to verify this story, Glushchenko contacted the Gaidar Museum and the Soviet Military Archives. Both sources assured him that there was no basis to question the official version of Gaidar's death, which was confirmed by eye-witness testimony. Glushchenko then received a call from the Obkom Director of the Department of Propoganda who insisted that he drop the investigation, asking pointedly, "Are you tired of living a peaceful life?" The reported got the hint and did as he was told.
Left unfinished at the time of Gaidar's death were the tales Bumbarash and Siniye Zvezdy ("Blue Stars"). During his lifetime he won two orders and many medals.