(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Chevengur is the story of a quest—the search for a place where time is telescoped and Communism has managed to triumph in a matter of weeks. Episodic and fragmented, the novel follows the path of several characters on their way to the village of Chevengur, the workers’ paradise on earth.

When Alexander Dvanov (Sasha) is orphaned, then turned out to beg by his impoverished foster family, he is taken in by Zakhar Pavlovich, a railroad mechanic who “wanted the world really to be endless, so that wheels would always be necessary, ever preparing the way for general happiness.” As Zakhar Pavlovich declines, losing interest in his beloved machines, World War I comes and goes, the Civil War begins, and Sasha reads and studies, finding comfort, if not understanding, in algebra.

At this point the narrative jumps to Sasha’s travels as a soldier in the Red Army and his wanderings during the Civil War. He leaves his regiment and returns home either to die or to recover from typhus; recovering, he falls in love with a neighbor girl, Sonya Mandrova, but leaves again, telling her that they will see each other after the Revolution.

Sonya leaves the town to work as a village schoolteacher, while Sasha travels through various villages, is wounded and captured by anarchist bandits, and then is rescued by Stepan Kopenkin, a troop commander who is temporarily without troops. Kopenkin believes that “all matters and roads of his life [lead] inexorably to the grave of Rosa Luxemburg”; he carries a picture of her in his cap and uses “Rosa” instead of “giddy-up” to urge his horse, Proletarian Strength, to great endurance in the name of the Revolution. The two set off to investigate the state of affairs in the district and to clear the road to socialism.

During their adventures they encounter more bandits, a knight of...

(The entire section is 763 words.)