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

Vladimir Voinovich

The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, 1975

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ivan Chonkin

Ivan Chonkin (ee-VAN CHON-keen), a simple Russian soldier sent to the village of Krasnoye to guard a small military plane. Short and puny, bowlegged and lop-eared, he is ill-suited for any role outside of his world, from which he is snatched away and thrust into a situation that almost costs him his life. Instead of living a normal life he desires, he becomes the center of attention and the unwitting opponent of an entire state apparatus. He remains oblivious to all the commotion.

Nyura Belyashova

Nyura Belyashova (NYEW-rah bee-LYAH-shoh-vah), the postmistress and Chonkin’s lover. A simple, unmarried woman, she is a perfect partner for Chonkin. Only slightly better educated and on the receiving end of cruel jokes, she is unwanted and unloved by anyone else except for her cow and pig. Chonkin’s love seem to be Nyura’s compensation for years of emptiness and loneliness.

Ivan Golubev

Ivan Golubev (EE-van goh-LEWB-yehv), a local manager of the collective farm. Although he has more common sense than other functionaries, he still plods through his routine as long as his sense of propriety is not disturbed.

Captain Milyaga

Captain Milyaga (mee-LYAH-gah), the head of the local NKVD (the precursor to the KGB). Milyaga is merciless in peaceful times but cowardly when the going gets tough. Caught in a bizarre turn of events, he becomes a victim of his incompetence and lack of common sense, and he is coldly disposed of by equally incompetent and nonsensical comrades.

Kuzma Gladishev

Kuzma Gladishev (kew-ZMAH gla-DEE-shehv), a pseudo-scientist raising hybrid potato-tomato plants. By pursuing a nonsensical project, he embodies the type of scientist during Stalin’s reign whose work was based primarily on loyalty to the Party. He comes across as ludicrous and worthless.

Pretender to the Throne, 1979

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ivan Chonkin

Ivan Chonkin, who continues to be the center of attention and of frantic attempts by officials to deal with him. In the end, he fades into the oblivion from which he came, leaving Nyura and everybody else as bewildered as when he came on the scene.

Nyura Belyashova

Nyura Belyashova, who, like Chonkin, is unable to understand why people are not allowed to enjoy their happiness. She expresses her bewilderment during her efforts to save her lover. Their plight marks the depth of dehumanization to which Soviet citizens often were subjected.

Ivan Golubev

Ivan Golubev, who refuses to allow harvesting in the rain and is accused of sabotage. He is brave enough to resign from the Communist Party, thus proving that even under dangerous circumstances a person can preserve his dignity and defy his fellow citizens’ prevailing submissive attitude.

Lieutenant Filippov

Lieutenant Filippov (fee-LEE-pohv), Milyaga’s replacement. Though expected to be of the same mold, he displays some conscience and humanness. Although he believes that he is only executing orders from above, he suggests that Chonkin be freed because he has committed no crime. He is still bothered by Chonkin’s confession, albeit made under duress. He is at times ashamed of his work but, after all, somebody has to do it. His ambivalence brings on a persecution...

(The entire section is 420 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Brown, Deming. Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin, 1978.

Brown, Edward J. Russian Literature Since the Revolution, 1982.

Prescott, P.S. Review of Pretender to the Throne: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin in Newsweek. XCVIII (August 31, 1981), p. 63A.

Sheppard, R.Z. Review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin in Time. CIX (January 3, 1977), p. 80.

Terras, Victor. Handbook of Russian Literature, 1985.