The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin/Pretender to the Throne Characters

Vladimir Voinovich

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although the characters seem to be merely caricatures of real human beings, they do lend an epic aura, for Voinovich does not stress plot development; instead, he concentrates on the characters and lets them act and speak for themselves in much the same manner as Homer had done in his epics. The plot is simple: In the village of Krasnoe (the Russian word for “red”; the village serves as a microcosm of the Soviet Union), there suddenly appears a soldier who becomes the unwitting catalyst to the unmasking of the characters with whom, directly or indirectly, he comes in contact. Voinovich’s characters become the victims of their own greed, ineptness, or paranoia. Just as Homer’s heroes are thematic—they represent human strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices—so Voinovich’s characters unveil their paranoia, chicanery, greed, and absurdities. Gladishev, with his hybrid potato-tomato, is a mockery of the agronomist Trofim Lysenko, whose spurious theories on genetics crippled Soviet science during the 1940’s and 1950’s.

In Boris Ermolkin, the editor of the Bolshevik Tempos, Voinovich parodies the Soviet bureaucrat who, in deference to canonical Communism and an unequivocal belief in Stalin, has abandoned his family; like a recluse, he works endless hours editing in his office. His is an isolated, monastic existence, not much different from the secluded life of medieval monks copying and correcting liturgical texts in their cells....

(The entire section is 413 words.)