Critical Context

Chevengur is a curious work in many ways, not the least because of its publishing history; this, Platonov’s most ambitious work, finished sometime around 1929, has never been published in full in the Soviet Union. Drastically edited sections have appeared as short stories, but not until 1972 was the novel published in Russian in full—and in France. Even so, there are some missing links, and any effort at synopsis makes the novel seem more coherent than it is. Coherence, though, may not have been Platonov’s point.

His body of work not published fully in the Soviet Union is large, including this novel and another major work, Kotlovan (1973; The Foundation Pit, 1973). Platonov first began to gain fame in the 1920’s. Stories that would eventually go into his first collection, Epifanskie shlyunzy (1927; epiphany), attracted attention with their startling stylistic ingenuity. Platonov’s eccentric language plus his fascination with the relationship between humans and their machines (he himself was an engineer) placed him among the ranks of young writers who were questioning the effects of a new ideology and new technology on an old rural consciousness.

Yet neither Platonov’s idiosyncratic language nor his bleak pictures of rural life proved palatable in the 1930’s. He was often attacked for “monstrous and unclean” attitudes and anti-Soviet slander. While he had his defenders and was able to publish such powerful stories as “Usomnivshiysya Makar” (“Makar the Doubtful”), “Vprok” (for the future good), and “Fro,” hostile criticism—and the arrest of his only son—effectively put an end to his real writing career by the end of the decade. He continued to write, surviving on journalistic reworkings of folktales, until his death in 1951. Chevengur, in whatever form, is a powerful example both of Platonov’s idiosyncratic sense of language and of his technological and spiritual preoccupations. Its absurd vision of the workers’ Paradise Found is Socialist surrealism at its purest.