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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 763

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.

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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 Revolution (clad in homemade armor), and finally Comrade Chepurny, otherwise known as the Jap. The Jap claims to be living in a village where Communism has already been achieved—that is, in Chevengur. Soon after their arrival in Chevengur, Sasha leaves again, but in the meantime Chepurny and Kopenkin help the Party committee purge the area of bourgeoises—they simply execute the male bourgeois population. Klavdyusha, Chepurny’s female companion (since there are no more wives), collects all of their “noncumbersome manual objects.” It turns out that Prokofy (Proshka) Dvanov, Sasha’s opportunistic foster brother, is a member of the village committee and the local authority on literacy and Karl Marx. He is interested in acquiring both Klavdyusha and the village itself.

The problem is that once Communism seems to be established in Chevengur, no one quite knows what to do with it or how they should all spend their time. They make useless objects such as wooden frying pans in order not to exploit one another, and let the crops go so as not to exploit the land. They uproot all the houses and relocate them, but in the process realize that there is no one to live in them. They decide to recruit the poor folk of the district to resettle Chevengur, and so Prokofy is dispatched first to collect the proletarians and the landless peasants, and then later to bring back women for them all. The Chevengurians light a beacon to guide the “miscellaneous” (those who are not peasants or proletarians, but not capitalists) to their new home.

At this point, the action switches abruptly to Moscow, where Simon Serbinov, an inspector of sorts, runs into a mysteriously attractive woman aboard a streetcar. Serbinov keeps a list of the people he knows; he “would have liked to accumulate people like money, as a means of existence.” This woman, who turns out to be Sonya, proves elusive.

Serbinov goes to Chevengur in his official capacity as agricultural inspector, and, like the rest of the people in the town, stays on for no definable reason. Sasha has returned, and they discover that they both know Sonya. Prokofy arrives with his wagonload of women, none of whom seems particularly interested in either socialism or sex. Pitiful, starved creatures, they want only food and warmth.

The Chevengurians try to keep themselves busy but unexploited by making tools and monuments to one another. In the end they are roused out of their uncomfortable idyll by a Cossack attack. In the battle, Kopenkin dies a heroic death and is carried off into the steppe by Proletarian Strength. Sasha goes after them, and in the wake of the fighting Prokofy vows to bring Sasha back.

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