Books: A Legend Exhumed

STORMY PETREL: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MAXIM GORKY by Dan Levin. 329 pages. Appleton-Century. $7.95.

Maxim Gorky's life was the irresistible legend: unschooled Volga boatman turned great writer, angry appellant for Red Revolution, friend of Tolstoy and Lenin, humanist who loathed repression, diver to The Lower Depths and the grim, gritty world of his Childhood. In fact, judging from this careful exhumation of the man by Dan Levin, sometime novelist and lifelong Gorkyite, Gorky was at once a less noble and more tragic figure than his legend suggests.

Hemingway with Heartburn. A hulking,...

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