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Andrey Platonov--the revolutionary prose of a master,
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This review is from: The Foundation Pit (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Andrey Platonov is a strange Soviet writer who belonged to no literary school and wrote books and stories, some unpublished during his lifetime, that are unclassifiable and unlike anything else I have ever read.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.