In this day and age I increasingly realize that I don’t know or understand a damn thing. What a mess. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pull your head out of your damn computer and take a look around. It’s bound to have reached you, too, whatever shape it has taken. Anyway, I decided that the perfect thing for me to do at a time like this was to post something about a topic that I don’t know a damn thing about, someone I have never even heard of. So, Nikolai Lyashko (1884-1953), you’re the lucky one. I’m writing about you.
But before I get started: My wife Oksana just walked past the room where I’m set up to write. I asked her, “Hey, does the name Nikolai Lyashko mean anything to you?”
Oksana smiled politely but distractedly and said, “Huh?”
“Lyashko?” she smiled again with a distant look of total disinterest on her face, “never heard of him,” and disappeared beyond the door.
Okay, then let’s start with what I do know. Lyashko lived at 18 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street. That’s the part of Tverskaya that runs between Triumfalnaya Square and the Belorussia Train Station. That’s on the east side of the thoroughfare. And, uh, now I think I’ve used up everything I know on my own. On the side of speculation, I’m going to guess that not even the people who erected the plaque to Nikolai Lyashko knew much about Nikolai Lyashko. These plaques virtually always list the honored figure’s dates, including the period spent occupying space in the given building. This plaque doesn’t do any of that – it just says, “In this house lived and worked the writer Nikolai Nikolayevich Lyashko.” Ah, yes, so there is one more bit of information I could have added: Nikolai’s father’s name was Nikolai.
I guess one other thing I could add is that Lyashko lived in one of those prestigious, monumental-type, Stalin-era buildings that line this street – sometimes, with a good deal of stretching, called “Moscow’s 5th Avenue.” They are imposing, granite and cement block buildings that tend to be quite boring on street level, where the riff-raff hang out, but often have whimsical and attractive decoration on the top floors, where only high-living neighbors across the street can appreciate that bit of beauty when gazing out their own windows. Lyashko’s building has no fringe on top, but it is solid and formidable.
Finally, here are some facts dredged up in various places.
Lyashko was a pseudonym. His real name was Lyashchenko and he was born in Ukraine of peasant stock. His father was a soldier.
He attended and graduated from a church parish school and went to work at the age of 11, toiling in coffee shops and factories throughout Eastern Ukraine.
He began participating in revolutionary circles at the age of 17 and by the age of 19 was already arrested and exiled. He spent a year jailed in a fortress in 1914 at the age of 30 for the crime of taking part in the publication of the “democratically-minded” journal Flames (Ogni).
His literary debut occurred in 1904 or 1905, the sources are inconsistent. In the immediate post-Revolutionary years he was associated with the Proletkult (Proletarian Culture) revolutionary writers organization, and he joined the Smithy group of proletarian writers in 1920. His most famous work is considered the novella The Blast Furnace (1925), although he wrote several novels and story collections about workers and revolutionary activity, including the autobiographical, two-volume work Sweet Hard Labor (1934-36).
As far as I can tell, the last time Lyashko’s works were published in a collection was in 1955.
Lyashko is buried in the hallowed grounds of Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow.