Sunday, February 01, 2015

Chevengur by Andrei Platonov: excerpt in Asymptote journal

I've only given a handful of books my highest recommendation (when I add a semi-ranking), and Chevengur by Andrei Platonov was one. Robert Chandler (a polite but definite critic of the only previous available English translation), Elizabeth Chandler, and Olga Meerson will have a new translation of Chevengur, hopefully available soon. Fortunately there are a couple of articles about the book in the January 2015 issue of Asymptote journal:

I love the closing lines of Chandler's essay about Platonov:

Like a great many of the finest twentieth-century Russian prose-writers—Andrey Bely, Ivan Bunin, Vladimir Nabokov, Varlam Shalamov, Nadezhda Teffi, amongst others—Platonov began his writing career as a poet. Though he abandoned verse, his imagination remained as bold, and his use of language as creative, as that of any Russian writer since Pushkin.

The excerpt covers a pivotal event in the novel. (The start of the quote corresponds to page 49 of the Anthony Olcott translation.) The big event in the excerpt involves a train wreck between two locomotives of the Red Army. The collision of two huge engines provides a metaphor for the rest of the novel, the collision between ideology (communism) and the attempt at utopia.

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