Among Animals and Plants by Andrey Platonov

A recently translated short story Among Animals and Plants by Andrey Platonov appears in this week’s The New Yorker. Not as biting as some of his earlier works like The Foundation Pit for which he is best known for, but nevertheless, it is peppered with insightful and sarcastic comments on the “proletarian culture” of the 1930s Soviet years. Especially well written are the slogans of the Soviet state that masquerade as life guiding truths and are internalized by the characters.

Andrey Platonov was born in a working class family and in the early years of the Revolution was educated as an engineer- his enthusiasm for the revolution soon replaced with reflections on the unbridled violence and coercion of the new state.

While The Foundation Pit and Happy Moscow were satirical in tone, his novel Soul  called for a more humane socialism, much before the term became popular in the 1950s. His 14- year old son was condemned as a “terrorist” and exiled to a labor camp on Stalin’s orders. Platonov himself ended his days as a window cleaner in the Soviet Writers union building. He had of course been expelled from the union a number of years before he died in 1951.

Many consider him as one the greatest Russian writers of the last century, whose works were suppressed during the Soviet era and who emerged, like the Hungarian writer Sandor Marai, only in the 1990s.

An excerpt from the story Among Animals and Plants:

“Animal or bird—whatever shows up, I’ll kill it!” the hunter resolved. But, as before, there was nothing around—only the rustle and hum of petty, frail creatures that weren’t worth a battle. Beneath the hunter crawled diligent ants, burdened like respectable little people with heavy loads for their households. They are vile creatures, he thought, with the character of kulaks. They spend all their lives dragging goods into their kingdom; they exploit every solitary animal, big and small, that they can dominate; they know nothing of the universal common interest and live only for their own greedy, concentrated well-being. Once, the hunter had happened to see two ants dragging an iron filing from the railway line: it seems that ants even need iron. read on

More on Andrey Platonov on this blog. An interview with Richard Chandler, Platonov’s translator.

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