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.)