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The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov

The Foundation Pit

by Andrey Platonov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
In the introduction to the NYRB edition of The Foundation Pit, Platonov is described as “doing violence to language” and that is an apt description of the book. It has a disjointed, surreal plot and isolated characters who react with numb indifference to violence or bizarre events. The story is told in extremely alienating language, both in the actual prose and the general disconnect of dialogue and plot elements. I can’t say it was an engrossing or enjoyable read. It’s perhaps admirable in the way Platonov uses these techniques to illustrate the misfortune of the Soviet state and the forced peasant collectivization.

I did enjoy Platonov’s Soul, which told its story of extreme deprivation in gorgeous language. Here, it’s the opposite – another story of deprivation but related in a deliberately bizarre way. The main character, Voshchev, is “made redundant” at his job and wanders until he is employed digging the foundation for what is supposed to be a great workers’ home. The foundation is never done and the unhappiness that prevails is the permanent state of things. Many of the characters look forward to some bright future – seeing it in various children and the girl that comes to join them, Nastya. Here, Platonov portrays the characters having accepted the state-mandated optimism in the face of actual hardship. Even though this idea comes from different characters, they are still unhappy – Voshchev worries about the meaning of life, Prushevky, the director, continually thinks of his death, the workers live in crowded, poor conditions. The futility of communication in such a society is shown through the disjointed conversations and notably unnatural language of the characters.

Some of the characters get involved in the collectivization of a nearby village (although place is kept ambiguous). Bizarre things happen here as well – there’s a random fight over coffins, which keep popping up, some people die in a random way (I thought they weren’t serious at first when the fact was mentioned), one character, Chiklin, keeps punching people with either no appreciable effect or deaths that spark minimal reactions, and a bear suddenly appears and points out kulaks. The division between kulaks (rich peasants, but often a term used for anyone you wanted to get rid of) and other peasants is a major event but the kulak liquidation is weird and again alienating. The notes and introduction point out that even Platonov’s oddest events have a basis in actual events, Russian philosophy and literature or Christian history and rites. Some I could see – the chickens who don’t lay eggs are “pro-kulak” and a windy day is also evidence of a conspiracy. Life and death hinge on a comma in an official document. And one kulak gets in this comment – ‘All right then, make the whole republic into a collective farm – but the whole republic will end up belonging to a single man. It’ll be his private holding!...Well you look out! There’s no me today, and there’ll be no you tomorrow…And that’s how it’ll end – the only person who’ll ever reach socialism is that one important man of yours.’

I am sure I didn’t get a lot of the allusions or references what with the translation (this is a book were every word is important) and my ignorance of the Russian philosophers, specific speeches and Christian traditions that were alluded to. This is one book where I would say the introduction should be read first. I didn’t really like it but it is interesting and admirable in a rather clinical way. I’ll have to see if my opinion of this one changes over time. ( )
3 vote DieFledermaus | Oct 31, 2012 |
This is a remarkable book, difficult to read and difficult to write about. In it, Platonov tries to recreate the world of the Soviet Union during the period of forced collectivization and the terror famine, not by describing it but by thrusting the reader into the midst of the chaos, unreality, and horror. A metaphorical fable, full of allusions to and direct quotes from both Stalinist proclamations and Orthodox liturgy (none of which I would have recognized without the translator's notes), it tells the tale of the building of a huge pit designed to support a home for the world's proletariat, a pit which keeps getting bigger and bigger with no building built, as well as a collectivized village from which the "kulaks" ("rich" peasants) are being "liquidated" and in which a bear is the hardest worker. Several characters come and go, including the apparent protagonist (although he disappears for part of the book) Voschev, who comes upon the pit after being fired from his job for thinking too much. Death is as normal as life in this novel; images of coffins abound, and many characters contemplate or even plan for their deaths, tired of and bored with living. At the same time, Voschev for one continues to search for truth and to value the meaning of individual lives.

The translator, in his helpful afterword, describes the book as being the one in which Platonov "did the most violence to language," and it is certainly true that his word choice is often startling and even confusing. I find myself thinking about this book now that I've finished it and trying to understand it, but if I hadn't earlier read and enjoyed the author'sSoul and Other Stories, and known that this novel is considered his masterpiece, I probably would not have continued to read it, because the almost randomness of what happens makes it hard to figure out what is going on.
5 vote rebeccanyc | Jun 12, 2011 |
The Afterward in the 2009 edition (which I recommend reading as a Forward or Introduction) includes this bullseye assessment: "The Foundation Pit is probably the work in which Platonov does most violence to language." It is an incredibly difficult book to read, if for no other reason than that deliberate grammatical dissonance permeates it throughout. Even so, there are scenes and passages that are positively exquisite. Unfamiliarity with the Terror Famine or Total Collectivization doubtless makes comprehension tougher and lessens the ability to appreciate what Platonov has done. Fortunately, it's a relatively short novel and I expect that it will be exponentially more enjoyable on a second or third reading. ( )
  Narboink | Dec 9, 2010 |
This book excellently demonstrates the grim realities of Soviet-era life. ( )
  Imshi | Mar 21, 2010 |
A good Sovietologist has shelves packed with books like Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923, Science and Industrialization in the USSR, and Soviet Economic Structure and Performance. However, Andrey Platonov’s The Foundation Pit confronts us with the possibility that we have all the wrong books. We might have read the slogans spilled from Stalin’s mouth and splashed across Pravda’s pages, we might have analyzed the Soviet statistics on farm production and industrial output during the era of industrialization and collectivization, but we’ve been like children who know the alphabet but are unable to assemble words. Platonov’s The Foundation Pit is the primer we’ve been waiting for. And for those non-Sovietologists among us, prepare to be rewarded with a fable of modern humanity’s struggles to reconcile its imperfect soul with the science of industry.

For the rest of this review, see the Summer 2009 edition of The Quarterly Conversation here at http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-foundation-pit-by-andrey-platonov-review ( )
  kvanuska | May 27, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Platonov, Andreyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brodsky, JosephPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chandler, RobertAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginsburg, MirraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leupold, GabrieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lewitscharoff, SibylleAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meerson, OlgaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meerson, OlgaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verheul, KeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitney, Thomas P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Op de dag dat Wosjtsjew dertig werd kreeg hij zijn ontslag op de kleine machinefabriek waar hij de middelen verdiende om in zijn onderhoud te voorzien.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0810111454, Paperback)

A grim and jagged dystopian novel of the early Soviet Union, The Foundation Pit is a scathing indictment of the brutal and anti-intellectual soviet apparatchiki, their policy of forced collectivization, and the mindlessness of "New Soviet Man" rhetoric.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Platonov's dystopian novel describes the lives of a group of Soviet workers who believe they are laying the foundations for a radiant future. As they work harder and dig deeper, their optimism turns to violence and it becomes clear that what is being dug is not a foundation pit but an immense grave.… (more)

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