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The Foundation Pit (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 21, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"I squint back on our century and I see six writers I think it will be remembered for.  They are Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, William Faulkner, Andrey Platonov and Samuel Beckett.... They are summits in the literary landscape of our century ... What's more, they don't lose an inch of their status when compared to the giants of fiction from the previous century."—Joseph Brodsky

“Hallucinatory and terrifying and filled with incredible language, this is Platonov’s finest.” —Flavorwire

“The most exciting literary discovery I made this past year was Andrey Platonov… his reputation has grown to the point that he is frequently considered the greatest Russian prose writer of the twentieth century. His masterpiece is The Foundation Pit, which boils all the utopianism and horror of the forced collectivization and industrialization of the early 1930s into 150 tightly written…. English-speaking readers are lucky to have the superb translation by Robert Chandler and Olga Meerson, published last year by New York Review Books…. Platonov’s brilliant short works can be sampled in the collection Soul, also published by NYRB.” —The Millions

"Andrey Platonov has not yet received the attention he richly deserves here...[he] turns out to be one of the finest writers of the 20th century, worthy to stand alongside Kafka and Joyce." --The Arts Fuse


"He has been described as the greatest Russian writer of the 20th century, but some of his most controversial works, written between 1927 and 1932, were not published in the Soviet Union until the 1980s. Platonov's The Foundation Pit is a satirical response to Stalin's programme of crash industrialisation and collectivisation." –Guardian


"Platonov's writing can retain enormous power in English...The foreign reader can also now begin to get an idea of the shape of Platonov's development as a writer. The Foundation Pit, written at the time of the brutal collectivization campaign of the late 1920s, plays out an image of equally brutal directness–a construction site on which nothing ever gets built. The pit just gets wider and deeper until it comes to represent a grave - of Stalinism's Promethean ambitions, and of the author's political idealism. The effect on the reader is almost physically winding." –The Moscow Times


"Acclaimed by Joseph Brodsky as one of the great Russian writers of the twentieth century, Andrey Platonov comes with a formidable reputation, matched only by his relative obscurity." –The Observer (London)


"Andrey Platonov is the most exciting Russian writer to be rediscovered since the end of the Soviet Union. Born in 1899, one of a railway worker's 10 children, he was an engineer, a party member and a model proletarian writer before doubts about Communism, and his literary imagination, landed him in trouble with Stalin. His work stopped being published in the early 1930s and only resurfaced 40 years after his death in 1951...The Foundation Pit will stand out as his masterpiece." –The Independent (London)


"In Platonov's prose, it is impossible to find a single dull or inelegant sentence... For Platonov's work testifies to the only political responsibility owed by any writer to any reader: to describe the world as faithfully, and as compellingly, as possible. Platonov deserves to be published; he rewards being read." –The Times (London)


"In Russian writer Andrei Platonov's novel The Foundation Pit, written in 1930 but not published in Russia until 1987, the characters must struggle not only with the interminable Soviet works project of the title, but with strange spiritual maladies...One of the most deeply original writers of the 20th century." –The National Post


"Nearly all his work is rooted in a particular place and time, and it is hard to think of another writer who so expertly animated the sadness and unease of the Soviet period. His fiction, at its best, has the timeless quality of parable or folklore." –New Statesman


"Counting Andrei Platonov among the greatest Russian prose writers of this century, Joseph Brodsky considered him to be 'quite untranslatable, and, in one sense, that's a good thing: for the language into which he cannot be translated.' The Foundation Pit distresses the Russian language, showing it splayed and shattered by the demands of revolution. In this nihilistic allegory, completed in 1930 but not published in the Soviet Union until 1987, workers dig the foundation pit for an enormous dwelling to be called the All-Proletarian Home...a grim, readable Platonov whose most familiar neighbor, in apocalyptic sensibility, is Samuel Beckett." –The New York Times


"Andrey Platonov is one of Russia's greatest modernist scribes. Like his fellow science-fiction writer Yevgeny Zamyatin - author of the astonishing futurist novel We, published in the 20s - he was also among that tortured country's most prescient literary artists...The Foundation Pit, written in 1930 and now published for the first time in English, is his most striking attempt to convey the extreme estrangement suffered by ordinary people as collectivisation in agriculture proceeded across the USSR...one of the most prophetic nihilistic tales of this ruined century." –The West Australian


"Completed in 1930 but unpublished during his lifetime, Platonov's masterpiece, a scathing satire of the Soviet attempt to build a workers' utopia, gauges the vast human tragedy of Stalinism, portraying a society organized and regimented around a monstrous lie, and thus bereft of meaning, hope, integrity, humanity...His dark parable is a great dirge for Mother Russia as well as a savage analysis of the split consciousness fostered by an oppressive system. Platonov's books are still being unearthed in Russia decades after his death." –Publishers Weekly


"Andrey Platonov's absurdist parable The Foundation Pit is a masterly achievement...Much of the genius of The Foundation Pit lies in Platonov's objective style and the lively invariably abusive dialogue, contrasting with oddly moving, isolated asides of brittle beauty. It is a Russian Waiting for Godot crossed with Lewis Carroll and Maxim Gorky - there is even a bear working as an apprentice blacksmith, frantically making horseshoes as if there were no tomorrow. And in this book, there isn't. According to the late Joseph Brodsky, Platonov 'simply had a tendency to see his words to their logical - that is absurd, that is totally paralyzing end. In other words, like no other Russian writer before or after him Platonov was able to reveal a self destructive, eschatological element within the language itself.' The Foundation Pit is extraordinary: strange, almost abrupt, a hallucinatory, nightmarish parable of hysterical laughter and terrifying silences." –The Irish Times


"These books are indescribable. The power of devastation they inflict upon their subject matter exceeds by far any demands of social criticism and should be measured in units that have very little to do with literature as such." –Joseph Brodsky


“A 20th-century Russian masterpiece...The Foundation Pit is a savage satire on collectivisation, a nightmarish vision of humanity trapped by the infernal machinery of totalitarianism...Platonov's grimly comic vision of a brave new world is as universal in its implications as any other account of a hellish utopia our century has produced..the dance of madness in The Foundation Pit is articulated as the suppression of anything human - sorrow and joy, hope and despair." –The Sydney Morning Herald


"Like Candide, Platonov's novel is a plotless allegory of human striving...The forced industrialisation of Russia, which began in 1928 and is the historical background of The Foundation Pit, left an estimated 15.2m dead. Even if one considers Platonov's masterpiece merely as a conte philosophique, one may note that his model universe was more amply observed than Voltaire's. He was also a writer perhaps the only writer to have advanced Russian prose beyond what had been achieved by Chekhov not a philosopher in literary disguise..." –The Times (London)


"Brilliant...Obviously a masterpiece." –Paul Theroux


“Perhaps the only writer to have advanced Russian prose beyond what had been achieved by Chekhov.” –The Times (London)


“One of Russia’s most insistent and valuable dissident voices.” –Los Angeles Times


“Among the greatest Russian prose writers of this century.” –New York Times


“In Russia it is Platonov who is increasingly described as the best writer of the post-revolutionary epoch.” –Times Literary Supplement (London)

About the Author

Andrey Platonov (1899—1951) was born in a village near the Russian town of Voronezh. He began to publish poems and stories in the 1920s and worked as a land reclamation expert in central Russia, where he was a witness to the ravages of the Great Famine. In the 1930s Platonov fell into disfavor with the Soviet government and his writing disappeared from sight. NYRB Classics published a new translation of Soul and Other Stories in 2007.

Robert Chandler has translated selections of Sappho and Apollinaire and is the editor of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida. His translations from Russian include Pushkin's Dubrovsky and The Captain’s Daughter, Leskov's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate and Hamid Ismailov’s The Railway. His co-translations of Andrey Platonov have won prizes in the UK and the US. His Alexander Pushkin is published by Hesperus in their series of ‘Brief Lives’. He teaches part time at Queen Mary, University of London.

Elizabeth Chandler is a co-translator of several volumes of Platonov and of Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter.

Olga Meerson teaches at Georgetown University and is the author of Dostoevsky’s Taboos (in English) and Platonov's Poetic of Re-Familiarization (in Russian). She is a co-translator of Platonov’s Soul and Other Stories, which, in 2004, was awarded the AATSEEL prize for "best translation from a Slavonic language".

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173058
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173053
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Words fail me in praising this. Simply put, it is one of the most over-looked, classic texts of the 20th C. Platonov writes in a style that combines a dreamy, surreal sensibility of the world with a hard, trenchant, unflinching look at the characters who inhabit it. My copy of this is dog-eared, full of notes and underlines- aspiring writers take note- Platonov is a writer who is to be studied, as much for his subtlety and lyrical elegance as his tough-skinned presentation of ruined lives; people trying to craft some order and peace from a world, and largely doomed to fail.
I'm being a bit too romantic, too hyperbolic. I probably shouldn't have attempted this. But I want to put my two cents in as concerns this work, because I love it. It is a marvelous book.
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Andrey Platonov is a strange Soviet writer who belonged to no literary school and wrote books and stories, some unpublished during his lifetime, that are unclassifiable and unlike anything else I have ever read. The Foundation Pit is perhaps his masterpiece and deals with very real and very terrible things in the Soviet Union of the late 1920s-1930s, including collectivization and the "elimination of the kulaks (`rich peasants') as a class." The title alludes to the digging of the foundation for a building that will serve as a gigantic Proletarian Home--although by the end the pit has served only as a grave. But what is really striking about this novel is the language in which it is written--a language which sometimes seems to be wrestled up from deep within the narrator or the main characters, especially Voshchev, whom we encounter on the first page:
"On the day of the thirtieth anniversary of his private life, Voshchev was made redundant from the small machine factory where he obtained the means for his own existence."
Add to this the mashing-up (humorous and/or horrific) of Soviet clichés, and yet other strangenesses of style and device: it's as dense as poetry.
Platonov deserves to be better known, and this edition will help. The Chandlers and Meerson have provided an afterword and notes to help orient the reader and tease out the allusions (from Biblical and liturgical subtexts to Soviet speak). And the translation itself has to be one of the most daring attempts to convey an almost intractable text from one language into another.
NYRB has also published Platonov's Soul: And Other Stories--and these are now the editions of choice. Highly recommended.
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This short novel was written in 1930 in response to the collectivization movement. The main character loses his job and wanders to a neighboring town where he joins a crew that is digging a foundation pit for a massive building for the proletariat to live in. Surrounded by an odd group of hapless characters, he soon realizes that the project will never be finished. They are joined by a young girl who spouts revolutionary slogans and reports on counter-revolutionaries.

Half way through the book, he and several other diggers move to a village which still contains peasants who own their own land and even peasants who have servants of their own. They participate in the removal of these owners and the collectivization of the farms in the area. Once the have succeeded in their quest they go back to the pit where the novel ends.

Foundation Pit describes an era that was hidden from those outside the Soviet Union, hidden from many inside that country and remains hidden to most today. It describes the blind and stupid dogmatism of Stalin's efforts, the violence of the reforms that were instituted and the dehumanization that resulted. The world described in this book seems surrealistic, but that is because of the strange language of propaganda that Platonov uses to narrate the tale. Actually, once you finish you realize this is not surrealism, but frightening realism. Platonov worked as an engineer in rural Russia and Ukraine and witnessed much of what he describes. It was much worse that we imagined.

This is a great book, only recently rediscovered. Thanks to NYRB for making it available!
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Format: Paperback
Russians write the best novels. This strange book is a continuation of that superiority.

It's a novel of ideas, yet the ideas are inextricable from the movement of the story. And its movement is effortless. Shifting points of view, locations, discourses--satire, irony, outrage--: all without, to this beginner's eye, a formal misstep. The author has opened a space for himself that allows him to do whatever he'd like. His authorial credibility is boundless. Two-thirds of the way through the book a bear appears as its now-central character. The reader--this reader!--does not blink.

And the book's ideas are astonishing.

This is one of the most poetic and philosophically compelling evocations of despair that I've ever read. Emphatically recommended. Essential.
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There is nothing I can add to the earlier reviews except to forewarn you that there is no hint of endnotes in the text itself. You have to search in the back of the text for the endnotes, which are listed by page number. I was more than halfway through the book before I found them. The endnotes are very important to understanding the many implications of the Platonov's unique use of the Russian language and use of Communist cliches. The Afterward is also very important. I've read some of it, and it increased my appreciation of what I've read so far.

I have decided to add to my comment because this is the most brilliant book I've ever read, and I read it three times in three weeks. I don't think I'll ever tire of reading it. It's the only example of verbal experimentalism from the era we call "modern" that makes sense to me. Platonov didn't so much write his book but sculpted it to show the horror of Total Collectivization and the liquidation of the kulak, that is the class of peasants who both owned property and hired labor, that is they were "rich" and therefore "parasites." He makes the author of "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" appear to have been playing self-indulgent games. I highly recommend this book. You will never forget it.
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