Novel by andrei platonov: soon comes the earthly paradise

After the October Revolution, disillusionment quickly set in. Andrei Platonov’s novel "The Happy Moskva" tells of this.

Melancholy in his characters, in his gaze: Andrei Platonov Photo: Archive

At the beginning of the October Revolution, when Moskva Ivanovna Chestnova is still a little girl, she looks out of the window one night and sees a man running down the street with a torch.

Then she hears a shot, shortly after a scream. All her life she must think of this torch runner and revolutionary. When a few years later, after her mother, her father also dies, Moskwa has to struggle alone for several years through post-revolutionary Russia.

In the children’s home that finally takes her in, she can no longer remember her name. "Then she was given the first name in honor of the city of Moscow, the patronymic in memory of Ivan, the common Red Army soldier who had fallen in battle, and the surname as a sign of the honesty of the heart that had not yet managed to be dishonest, although it had been unhappy for a long time."

Then later Moskva Chestnova escapes from school, again fights her way on her own, but, after her forced return, learns all the more eagerly and becomes an ardent supporter of the revolution. By chance she gets a place at the aviation school.

Soon humanity would leave misery behind and arrive at communism

She becomes a parachutist, but when she is supposed to try out a new kind of parachute fabric, there is an accident: while trying to light a cigarette in the air, she sets the parachute on fire. Only the replacement parachute saves her life. But she is not blamed for her mistake. On the contrary, as a daredevil parachutist, she becomes a heroine afterwards.

Emotion and socialism

Although the idea behind Andrei Platonov’s novel quickly becomes clear, it does not constantly push itself to the fore, but only occasionally shimmers through his peculiarly poetic writing style.

The fact that the dream of socialism, of a just world, is still comprehensible to today’s readers is due, on the one hand, to its technocratic character; on the other, to Platonov’s narrative skill, which convincingly describes the euphoria after the October Revolution.

At that time, it seemed only a matter of time before humanity would leave misery behind and arrive at communism – the earthly paradise. A child’s faith that grew out of misery, whose appeal was exploited by "Father Stalin" and which ended in the catastrophe of the Gulag.

Platonov’s only son was also arrested from school at the age of fifteen and sentenced to ten years of forced labor. In the camp he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1943.

Platonov’s protagonists are tragic figures whose failures leave the reader with a sense of futility and melancholy. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that "The Happy Moskva" is a "love novel of contemporary idealists in their era," as Lola Debuser, one of the two translators of the text, writes in her afterword. Again and again, Moskva fails in her attempt to overcome the contradiction between her commitment to socialism and her emotions.

Through all the agonies

Sartorius, the engineer – probably a kind of alter ego of Platonov – also falls unhappily in love with her. He also feels that human reality – here: his feelings – cannot be reconciled with the project of socialism. "He felt as if people had not lived before him and he was about to go through all the agonies, to try everything anew, to find for each human body a great life that did not yet exist."

Andrei Platonov: "The Happy Moskva." Translated from the Russian by Lola Debuser and Renate Reschke. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2019, 221 pages, 24 euros.

Before "melancholy and intolerability," he then gets involved with his colleague Lisa. He kissed her, "and she took his feeling seriously. But afterwards he slept for a long time with a haggard heart and woke up full of despair. Moskva Teshestnova was right that love was not communism [future] and passion was sad." Instead of continuing to pursue the failed socialist goals, he nevertheless tries to live humanity in a kind of existentialist revolt in the Camusian sense.

Platonov had probably intended for "The Happy Moskva" another chapter entitled "The Journey from Leningrad to Moscow in 1937." However, this part of the novel was stolen from him on a railroad trip to Ufa.

Since Platonov had already fallen out of favor with Stalin in 1931, it may have been purposely stolen and may eventually turn up in a Russian intelligence archive. Platonov died in 1951, this novel remained incomplete, in German it first appeared in 1993 and now in a revised new translation.

Even the short fragment of this melancholic novel about the contradiction between the dream of a better world and human reality is worth reading.

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