McKenzie Wark on Andrey Platanov and his recently reissued novel Happy Moscow in “A More Interesting Grief”:
One of the great explosions of modern literary creativity happened in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, with the emergence of writers like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Viktor Shklovsky, Isaak Babel, and Boris Pilnyak. There’s no knowing what the Soviet writing of the subsequent decades might have been if Stalin hadn’t killed, jailed, exiled or silenced everyone. Some of the best writing from that period only surfaced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is just now starting to filter out into the international arena. One of the most remarkable discoveries is the work of Andrey Platonov.
Platonov was that rare thing, a proletarian writer. The son of a railway worker, he enthusiastically joined the revolution in 1917, seduced as many were by Lenin’s leap of faith. But disillusionment set in quickly. Stunned by the effects of the drought and famine of 1921, he studied engineering and for most of the 1920s worked on electrification and irrigation projects, only becoming a full-time writer at the end of the decade. While many of his stories saw print, his important cycle of novellas of Soviet life from the revolution through to the rise of Stalin went unpublished in his lifetime. Today, his most ambitious book, Chevengur — an allegorical history of the revolution and civil war — is, regrettably, still out of print, but New York Review Books Classics have issued three of his other works in beautifully produced editions.