How the Steel Was Tempered

How the Steel Was Tempered (Russian: Как закалялась сталь, Kak zakalyalas' stal') or The Making of a Hero, is a socialist realist novel written by Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904–1936). With 36.4 million copies sold, it is one of the best-selling books of all time[1] and the best-selling book in the Russian language.

How the Steel Was Tempered
How the Steel Was Tempered (novel) cover.jpg
Russian cover
AuthorNikolai Ostrovsky
Original titleКак закалялась сталь
CountrySoviet Union
GenreSocialist realism
PublisherYoung Guard (serial)
Publication date
1932–1934 (serial) – 1936 (book)
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)


The story follows the life of Pavel Korchagin, including his fighting in and aftermath of the Russian Civil War. Korchagin fought for the Bolsheviks during the war and was injured. The novel examines how Korchagin heals from his wounds and thus becomes as strong as steel.

The novel begins when Korchagin is 12, living in the town of Shepetovka in Ukraine. He gets kicked out of school for putting tobacco in some bread dough and must go to work as a dishwasher. As a dishwasher he is beaten by a coworker, but his brother Artyom defends him. The novel jumps forward to age 16 when he is working in a power plant. He meets a Bolshevik named Zhukhrai after a run-in with the Tsarist secret police. Zhukrai tells him about the Bolsheviks and Lenin. He also meets Tonia Toumanova, his love interest. Again the novel jumps, to 1917 as the German army invades Shepetovka. Korchagin fights the Germans, and eventually joins the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. He is seriously injured and partially loses his sight. After the war he worked as a laborer, including building railways. He eventually is injured further, and loses his legs and a hand. He goes to Crimea to live out his days. The book closes with Korchagin sitting down to write an autobiography: "How the Steel Was Tempered", thus establishing the book as a self-fulfilling framing device.


The story is a fictionalized autobiography of its author, Nikolai Ostrovsky. In real life, Ostrovsky's father died, and his mother worked as a cook. As he joined the war with the Red Army, he lost his right eye from artillery fire during the war.

In 2016, Russia's newspaper Russia Beyond The Headlines analyzed the story as part of the Soviet narrative of Communism forging uncivilized men into ideal men, like iron into steel. The protagonist fits the mold of pre-Khrushchev literature: an immaculate, ideally communistic individual.[2][3]


  • Pavel Korchagin – The novel's protagonist. He is fighting on the Bolsheviks' side in the Civil War (1918–1921). He is a quintessential positive hero of socialist realism.
  • Tonia Toumanova – Pavel's teenage love. Tonia and Pavel became good friends after their first encounter, which later develops into an intimate relationship. Though born of a wealthy and influential family, Tonia treated everyone equally unlike her friends, who only interact with other children of well-reputed families. However, this changed as she grew up, as she became more aware of her appearance and social status of others.

Publication historyEdit

The first part of How the Steel was Tempered was published serially in 1932 in the magazine Young Guard. The second part of the novel appeared in the same magazine from January to May, 1934. The novel was published in 1936 in book form in a heavily edited version that conformed to the rules of socialist realism. In the serial version Ostrovsky had described the tense atmosphere of Pavel's home, his suffering when he became an invalid, the deterioration of his relationship with his wife, and their separation. All of this disappeared in the 1936 publication and in later editions of the novel.[4]

A Japanese translation of the novel was made by Ryokichi Sugimoto [ja].


In the Soviet Union, three films were produced based on this novel:


  1. ^ Евгений Немировский (2000-01-03). "Журнал "КомпьюАрт" | Подводя итоги XX столетия: книгоиздание. Бестселлер – детище рекламы". Archived from the original on 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  2. ^ Viesel, Mikhail; RBTH, special to (2016-12-22). "How literature was used to 'temper' Soviet people". Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  3. ^ "Nikolay Ostrovsky how steel was tempered summary. Nikolay Ostrovsky "how the steel was tempered". The history of writing the novel "How the Steel Was Tempered"". Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  4. ^ A History of Soviet Literature, pgs 43–44, Vera Alexandrova, Doubleday, 1963.
  5. ^ IMDb, Kak zakalyalas stal, retrieved 2018-12-20
  • Third studio album of Russian experimental group Shortparis, 2019 - Tak zakalyalas stal (Russian: «Так закалялась сталь», lit. 'Thus the Steel Was Tempered')

External linksEdit

  Media related to How the Steel Was Tempered at Wikimedia Commons