The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin Summary

Vladimir Voinovich


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the end of May, 1941, amid rumors of war, the short, bowlegged Red Army private Ivan Chonkin is sent to the village of Krasnoye to guard an airplane that was forced to land near the village. Chonkin is a poorly educated lad. He has trouble understanding questions properly and asks himself impertinent questions, such as whether Stalin has two wives. He is met in Krasnoye by inquisitive and distrustful villagers, including Nyura Belyashova, a postmistress. They are perplexed by the purpose of Chonkin’s mission, since his looks do not inspire respect.

Facing the plane, Chonkin does not know what to think or do. He knows that a sentry is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, laugh, sing, talk, or relieve himself while on duty, but he soon breaks this rule. He is pleasantly surprised to see Nyura working on her potatoes. He is immediately attracted to her and helps her in her work. Nyura is all alone in the world, and she is loved only by her cow Beauty and her pig Borka. Chonkin’s friendliness is enough for her to reciprocate. She invites him to a modest dinner, and he accepts, despite sentry rules. He moves into her modest house. He even rolls the plane into her yard.

After ten days, Chonkin feels right at home guarding the plane, but he begins to worry as he receives no communications from his superiors about a post that seems to be permanent. He was sent to Krasnoye with sufficient rations for only one week. Chonkin turns for advice to Kuzma Gladishev, a pseudoscientist working on a potato-tomato hybrid. Gladishev is a learned and erudite man—a wooden outhouse in his garden has a sign on it reading “water closet” in English. Chonkin asks Gladishev to write a letter for him to his commander asking for unlimited rations and a new uniform. Nyura never delivers the letter, however, fearing that the army will recall Chonkin, even though he forces her to make love several times each night and day.

One day, Chonkin is told by a villager named Burly that Nyura has been having sex with her hog. The enraged Chonkin decides to leave Nyura, and she, embarrassed and hurt, lets him go without attempting to reconcile with him. Chonkin has a terrible dream that night, sleeping in hay by the plane. Among the terrifying images he experiences is that of Nyura’s wedding to a young man. After waking up, Chonkin is invited by Gladishev to share food and beverages, declaring proudly that they are made of fecal matter. Chonkin makes up with Nyura just as the...

(The entire section is 1014 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is a comedy of innocence and a satire of incompetence. The hero, Private Chonkin, is often comic in his innocent but never contemptible behavior. His opponents, functionaries in the Stalinist Soviet Union, are only somewhat funny in their self-approving incompetence. Frequently they are transparent fools.

Just before the beginning of World War II, a Red Army airplane is forced to land on a collective farm in the Soviet Union. Private Chonkin, a humble soldier and object of petty harassment by the military, is sent to stand guard over the downed aircraft. Within a few days Chonkin has settled in nicely, taking up with Nyura Belyashova, the lonely postmistress, and making the acquaintance of Golubev, chairman of the kolkhoz (collective farm), and Gladishev, a warehouseman with scientific pretensions. Members of the farm, which has been named Krasnoye (Red) in honor of the Russian Revolution, are silly in their patriotism and mechanical in their zeal. For example, Delhi cigarettes are suspected of being subversive because “Delhi” possibly stands for “Down with the Entire Leninist Humanist International.” Gladishev, who lives with an unlovely wife named Aphrodite and an infant son named Hercules, spouts Darwinism and aspires to revolutionize agricultural production by developing a hybrid plant that will bear potatoes and tomatoes at the same time. In support of his efforts, he...

(The entire section is 465 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Matich, Olga, and Michael Helms, eds. The Third Wave: Russian Literature in Emigration. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1983. Study of Voinovich and other Soviet émigré writers, discussing both their works and their biographies.

Milivojevic, Dragan. “The Many Voices of Vladimir Voinovich.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 30, no. 2 (1979): 55-62. General but useful discussion of Voinovich’s satire.

Porter, R. C. “Vladimir Voinovich and the Comedy of Innocence.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 16, no. 2 (1980): 97-108. Examines Voinovich’s treatment of common Russians, who are often portrayed comicly but deliver a potent satiric message in his work.

Szporluk, Mary Ann. “Vladimir Voinovich: The Development of a New Satirical Voice.” Russian Literary Quarterly 14 (Winter, 1976): 99-121. Details the emergence of Voinovich as a leading satirist in post-Stalin Russian literature.

Terras, Victor. A History of Russian Literature. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Succinct discussion of Voinovich’s role as a leading Russian dissident.

Wakamiya, Lisa Ryoko. Locating Exiled Writers in Contemporary Russian Literature: Exiles at Home. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Study of exiled Russian writers who, like Voinovich, returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet state and sought to redefine the nature of Russian literary identity in a post-Communist era.