At the end of the Russian civil war following the revolution, the young comrade Sasha Dvanov is sent into the vast expanse of the steppe in southern Russia. He’s supposed to take stock, find out how far the spread of socialism has progressed. Together with Kopenkin, his odd companion, and a horse named Proletarian Power, they begin a journey with an open heart through the fantastical magical world of utopia and failure, of awakening and disappearance, of survival in uncertain, insecure times. In Chevengur, a backwater in the middle of nowhere, they meet a community of some utopians that have declared communism to already be in place and now test out this new life according to new rules. But this attempt proves to be deceptive.
Andrei Platonov’s novel of the century just barely saw the light of the century in which and for which it was written. It couldn’t be published until right before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, 60 years after it was written. The questioning, vulnerable stance of a new kind of writing that opened itself to attack and had no fixed target, but an open heart instead, was no longer acceptable in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1929. In these current times of uncertainty, Sebastian Baumgarten searches in Platonov for tools to reevaluate the rules of coexistence. Platonov’s view is open, but never naive. Perhaps that’s exactly what’s needed now?
Photo: Esra Rotthoff