Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Soviet prose: Censoring surrealistic art of a prominent writer

Stalin wrote “scum” in the margin of one of Andrey Platonov’s surreal stories and told the editor to “give him a good belting.” Censored and supressed during his lifetime, Platonov, who was born in 1899, is now seen as a creative beacon of Soviet literature.


Some fans would make even greater claims. In his introduction to a collection of Platonov’s stories called “Soul” (NYRB 2007), the translator Robert Chandler said: “All Russians consider Pushkin their greatest poet; in time, I believe, it will become equally clear that Platonov is their greatest prose writer.”
“Soul” includes the translator’s personal favorite, “The Return,” which also appeared in the anthology “Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” (Penguin, 2005).
“This story about an army captain's fraught return to his family at the end of the Second World War is witty, tender and wise," Chandler said in a recent interview with RBTH. "It is full of vivid detail, but it is of universal relevance."
"Anyone who has ever, in moments of impatience, felt the desire to smash up his existing, imperfect life and run off in pursuit of some illusion of a perfect life elsewhere … can learn something from this story,” Chandler added.
Platonov has always been widely admired by fellow writers, including Pasternak and Bulgakov; the poet, Joseph Brodsky, saw him as the equal of Joyce and Kafka; the historian, Orlando Figes, considers the discovery of Platonov’s previously unpublished manuscripts as “the most precious [literary] dividend from the collapse of the Soviet system.”
A working class boy from Voronezh, Platonov worked on the railroad as a teenager, fought with the Red Army before he was twenty, and died in obscure poverty at the age of 52.
Many of his texts were published only posthumously, like the unfinished “Happy Moscow,” written during the 1930s; this bizarre, hypnotic tale finally appeared in 1991 and NYRB Classics have just issued a revised translation.
More here.


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