Ivan Chonkin is a simple, bumbling peasant who has been drafted into the Red Army. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he is sent to an obscure village with one week's ration of canned meat and orders to guard a downed plane. Apparently forgotten by his unit, Chonkin resumes his life as a peasant and passes the war tending the village postmistress's garden. Just after the German invasion, the secret police discover this mysterious soldier lurking behind the front line. Their pursuit of Chonkin and his determined resistance lead to wild skirmishes and slapstick encounters.
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Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
I have to imagine that one of the things most hated by authoritarian governments is being laughed at. It's no wonder then that Voinovich found his works being refused by the Soviet government for publication in the 1960s, found himself excluded from the Soviet Writers' Union in the 1970s, and was stripped of his citizenship and exiled in the 1980s.The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is often considered Voinovich's best work. He takes the familiar Russian character of Ivan the Fool and recasts him as Ivan Chonkin, a soldier in the Soviet Army at the advent of World War II. He is the perfect blend of bumbling naïveté with just a slight touch of guile that makes him endearing to the reader and has made him a modern folk figure in his own right.Chonkin is sent to guard an airplane that has broken down and been left stranded in a farmer's field. Forgotten by the Army, he strikes up a relationship with the postmistress of the village and spends the war tending her livestock and garden. Of course, once the NKVD hear of him, it is inevitable that they should consider him a spy and¿with jabs at Stalin, collectivism, the Army, Five Year Plans, and just about everything else Soviet...and with overt nods to Chekhov and Gogol¿Voinovich takes on a hilarious ride through the consequences.The 1990s brought a restoration of Voinovich's citizenship. However, while the literary world has handed him a prize here and there, I find myself wondering if the Russian government feels the same way. In 2007, he returned to familiar ground with the publishing of the third volume of Chonkin's adventures, Displaced Person, set in post-Soviet Russia.This is a humorous anodyne for glooms or blues, particularly if you're of a certain age and your memory of Russia encompasses the Cold War era.
Ivan Chonkin is an inept private in the Soviet army on the cusp of World War Two who first finds himself ordered to guard an airplane in a distant village, then finds himself forgotten by the authorities, and finally remembered and with a vengeance. `The Life and Extraordinary Times of Private Ivan Chonkin' might be called a Soviet Catch-22 [Catch-22: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics)] for its seemingly absurdist send up of life in the Red Army. I say 'seemingly absurdist' because, like Catch-22, one suspects there is more than a little truth in Voinovich's portrayal of bureaucratic tomfoolery. Chonkin himself calls to mind George Macdonald Fraser's McAuslan (McAuslan in the Rough), the bumbling private in a Scottish Highland regiment. Others have likened it the The Good Soldier Svejk: and His Fortunes in the World War (Penguin Classics), which I have not yet read. The background of Stalinist terror gives Voinovich's work a darker cast. Army bureaucrats endeavor at all costs to keep a low profile to avoid attracting the attention of the higher ups. Such attention is too often accompanied in their minds with imprisonment, exile, or death. A favorite bit occurs late in the book when a regiment has surrounded the village in order to take Chonkin into custody. Chonkin has taken seven members of the secret police captive and the regiment has come to the rescue. (In the meantime, Chonkin has turned this group of seven into such efficient farm workers that word soon reaches the newspapers and even Comrade Stalin. The local chairman feels certain doom is sure to follow such success.) The captain of the secret police escapes, but falls into the hands of army, which he mistakenly thinks is the German army. Much hilarity ensues. Although the book is somewhat an artifact of the Stalinist era and is almost certainly even better if one can read it in the original Russian (alas, I cannot), the book still rates five stars and my highest recommendation in part for the rare look it provides into life in the wartime Soviet Union and in part for its timeless portrayal of army bureaucracy, and the universal slacker, Ivan Chonkin.