Click here to read Robert Chandler's essay on translating Andrey Platonovich Platonov, also from this issue. Andrey Platonovich Platonov — began publishing poems and articles in , while studying engineering. Between and he wrote his most politically controversial works, some of them first published in the Soviet Union only in the late s. Other stories were published but subjected to vicious criticism. During the thirties Platonov made several public confessions of error, but went on writing stories only marginally more acceptable to the authorities. From September , after being recommended to the chief editor of Red Star by his friend Vasily Grossman, Platonov worked as a war correspondent and managed to publish several volumes of stories; after the war, however, he was again almost unable to publish.
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Click here to read Robert Chandler's essay on translating Andrey Platonovich Platonov, also from this issue. Andrey Platonovich Platonov — began publishing poems and articles in , while studying engineering. Between and he wrote his most politically controversial works, some of them first published in the Soviet Union only in the late s.
Other stories were published but subjected to vicious criticism. During the thirties Platonov made several public confessions of error, but went on writing stories only marginally more acceptable to the authorities. From September , after being recommended to the chief editor of Red Star by his friend Vasily Grossman, Platonov worked as a war correspondent and managed to publish several volumes of stories; after the war, however, he was again almost unable to publish.
He died in , of tuberculosis caught from his son. Happy Moscow , one of his finest short novels, was first published in A complete text of Soul was first published only in ; letters, notebook entries and unfinished stories continue to appear. Together with his wife, Elizabeth, and other colleagues he has co-translated numerous works by Andrey Platonov. She does not know Russian, but has gradually, over the years, began to work more and more closely with her husband.
She has also written numerous articles on Russian literature, orthodox liturgical poetics, and Biblical exegesis and its hermeneutics. Chevengur Andrey Platonovich Platonov.
Illustration by Shuxian Lee Novokhopersk had been occupied by the Cossacks while Aleksandr Dvanov was on his way there, but the detachment of Nekhvoraiko the Teacher had managed to push them out of the town. Novokhopersk was surrounded by dry ground, except for the approach from the river, which was all marshland; here the Cossacks had kept up only a feeble vigilance, assuming the marsh was impassable.
But Teacher Nekhvoraiko had shod his horses with bast sandals, so they wouldn't drown, and taken the town during one desolate night, forcing the Cossacks out into the boggy valley, where they remained for a long time, since their horses were barefoot. Dvanov called at the RevCom and talked to the people there. There were complaints about the lack of calico for Red Army whites, as a result of which the lice on the men were as thick as kasha—but the men were resolved to keep on fighting down to bare earth.
A mechanic from the depot, the chairman of the RevCom, said to Dvanov, 'Revolution churns up the ground. If it doesn't work out, there'll be only clay. Let every son of a bitch fend for himself if things don't go well for the workers. They just said, 'Live here with us, we'll all get by better. Then we'll have a look and see what you ache for the most. Around the readers hung red slogans, and through the windows could be seen a dangerous space of fields. Both readers and slogans were defenceless—it was possible, straight from the fields, to shoot a bullet into the head of a young Communist bent over a pamphlet.
While Dvanov was getting accustomed to militant steppe revolution and was beginning to love his comrades there, a letter came from the provincial capital ordering him to return.
Aleksandr set off from the town without a word and on foot. The station was three miles' walk, but Dvanov had no idea how he would get to the capital; he had heard that the Cossacks had seized the line. A band coming across the fields from the station was playing sad music—it turned out that the cold body of the now-dead Nekhvoraiko was being carried to the town.
He and his entire detachment had been trapped into death by the prosperous inhabitants of a large village called Peski or 'Sands. Behind Dvanov the town was sinking into its valley, out of the reach of his eyes as he looked back, and Aleksandr felt sad for the lonely town of Nekhvoraiko, as if without him it had become still more defenceless. At the station Dvanov felt the anxiety of space that was grown over and forgotten.
Like everyone, he was attracted by earth's far distance, as if all distant and invisible things missed him and were calling to him.
Ten or more nameless people were sitting on the ground and hoping for a train to take them away to a better place. They were living through the torments of the Revolution without complaint and patiently wandering through the Russian steppe in search of bread and salvation.
Dvanov went outside, saw some kind of military train on Track Number 5 and walked over to it. The train was made up of two coaches and eight open wagons carrying carts and artillery. Two more open wagons carrying coal had been coupled on behind the coaches.
The unit commander allowed Dvanov into one of the coaches after checking his documents. The Red Army gunners were nearly all asleep. They had been fighting near Balashov for two weeks and were badly tired.
Two of them had had enough sleep and were sitting by the window, singing a quiet song because of the boredom of war. The commander was lying down and reading 'The Adventures of a Hermit, a Lover of the Beautiful, published by Tieck,' while the political commissar had disappeared somewhere inside the telegraph office.
The coach, probably, had carried many Red Army soldiers, who had felt homesick during long journeys and written all over the benches and inside walls with the wax crayons men always use when they're writing home from the Front. With heartfelt sorrow, Dvanov read these dictums—at home too, he had used to read a new calendar a year in advance.
Dvanov began to doze in the hot coach, and he woke up in darkness. What had woken him was the grinding of brake blocks, and also some kind of continuous sound. The window then blazed with the light of a moment, and the air low down was made hot by a shell. It had exploded quite close, brightly showing the stubble and the gentle night fields. Dvanov came to and stood up. The train timidly came to a stop. The commissar got out, Dvanov went with him. The line was evidently being fired on by Cossacks—their battery was flashing somewhere not far away, but they kept overshooting.
The night was chilly and sad, and it took the two men some time to walk to the locomotive. The boiler was hardly making any noise and a small light, like an icon lamp, was shining over the pressure gauge.
Cossacks are shelling it and we've extinguished our lamps—we're asking for trouble, for a bad accident,' the driver quietly answered from up above them. The shells are going over our heads,' said the commissar. Let me have a soldier for the firebox. A shell exploded ahead of the locomotive and lit up the whole train.
The engine driver paled, moved the handle of the regulator and shouted to Dvanov and the fireman, 'Keep up the steam! The locomotive got going, with boiling speed. Ahead lay darkness that had gone dead—and within this darkness, perhaps, lay damaged track. On the curves the engine swayed so wildly that Dvanov thought they were about to come off the rails. The engine was frequently and abruptly cutting off steam, and there was a resonant flow of air from the friction of the locomotive's hurtling body.
Sometimes, beneath the locomotive, there was the rumbling of little bridges, while clouds up above would flare with a mysterious light as they reflected the glow escaping from the open firebox. Dvanov was soon bathed in sweat, and he felt surprised that the driver was keeping the train going at such a speed—after all, they had cleared the Cossack battery long ago. But the frightened driver was endlessly demanding more steam; he was even helping to feed the firebox himself, and he didn't once move the regulator from its extreme position.
The locomotive was quivering with tension and swaying its entire body, searching for a chance to hurl itself down the embankment and escape the power and pent-up speed that were suffocating it. Sometimes Dvanov felt that the locomotive had already left the rails and the coaches were about to follow and he was dying in the quiet dust of soft soil, and Aleksandr put his hands to his chest to keep his heart from terror.
When the train tore over the points and crossings of stations, he saw the wheels strike flashes of fire. Then the locomotive would sink once again into the dark depths of its future track and the fury of an engine at full speed. The curves nearly threw the locomotive crew off their feet while the coaches and wagons behind, going at too great a speed to beat out their usual rhythm, hurtled over the rail joints with a scream of wheels. The driver's mate had evidently had enough, and he said to the driver, 'Ivan Palych!
We're nearly at Shkarino. Why not stop there? We can take on water! Dvanov realized that exhaustion had made the driver forget to think, and he carefully opened the lower stopcock on the tender. What he wanted was to empty out the remaining water and so prevent the driver from continuing at this pointless speed.
But the driver eased back the regulator and moved away from the window. His face was calm, and he reached for his tobacco. Dvanov calmed down too and closed the stopcock on the tender. The driver smiled and said to him, 'What made you do that? Ever since Maryino Junction there's been a White armoured train behind us.
I was trying to get away. And why didn't you reduce speed after we passed the battery—before we got to Maryino Junction? The train was still going fast, and the wind cooled Dvanov's body. Behind them lay total darkness—nothing but the screech of hurrying coaches. We needed to get further away,' said the driver. Dvanov thought he had simply been frightened.
At Shkarino the train stopped. The commissar came up to them and expressed surprise at the driver's story. Shkarino seemed empty, and it was the water tower's last water that was slowly flowing into the locomotive. Then a man from the station appeared and announced with difficulty, against the night wind, that there were Cossack patrols around Povorino—the train wouldn't get through.
Aleksandr went in after him. The main hall was empty and dreary; Aleksandr was met in this dangerous house of the Civil War by abandonment, oblivion and prolonged anguish. The unknown solitary man who had been speaking to the commissar lay down in a corner on a surviving bench and began to cover himself with meagre clothing.
Who he was and how he had come to be there was a matter of real and heartfelt interest to Aleksandr. How many times had he met, how many times was he yet to meet, these unknown people, these outsiders who lived according to their own solitary laws—but not once did his soul compel him to go up to them and question them or attach himself to them and disappear with them from the order of life.
It would have been better, perhaps, if Dvanov had gone up to that man in Shkarino station and lain down beside him—and then, in the morning, gone out and disappeared in the steppe air.
The Modern Novel
Despite support from Gorky , only parts of it were published in the Soviet Union during his life. It is not too difficult to see why. In some respects it might be seen as Gogol meets Voinovich , with a dose of Cervantes thrown in but it is more than that and has its own unique style. We start off with a jack of all trades during a period of acute suffering in the early years of the revolution. This man — Zakhar Pavlovich — struggles but the others in the village, overcome by the extensive drought, despite that the fact that they live in one of the most fertile parts of Russia, often give up, welcoming death. Death is a key theme in this book and, all too often, is welcomed by the characters rather than feared. Zakhar Pavlovich takes in an orphan — Sasha Alexander Dvanov and it is Sasha who becomes the hero of the book.
Although Platonov was a Communist , most of his works were banned in his own lifetime for their skeptical attitude toward collectivization and other Stalinist policies, as well as for its experimental, avant-garde form. New York Review Books Classics issued a collection of short stories, including his most famous story, The Potudan River, with an introduction by Tatyana Tolstaya, in New York Review Books reissued a collection of Platonov's work including the novella Soul Dzhan , the short story The Return , and six other stories in . This was followed by a reissue of The Foundation Pit in  , and Happy Moscow , an unfinished novel that was left unpublished in Platonov's lifetime, in His father was a metal fitter and amateur inventor employed in the railroad workshops and his mother was the daughter of a watchmaker. He attended a local parish school and completed his primary education at a four-year city school and began work at age thirteen, with such jobs as office clerk at a local insurance company, smelter at a pipe factory, assistant machinist, warehouseman, and on the railroad. Following the revolutions, he studied electrical technology at Voronezh Polytechnic Institute.