A Hidden Gem

The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich is a book that I had to rescue from our clearance table. In one sense going clearance is a suitable end result for poor Ivan Chonkin, the bumbling peasant turned inept soldier, but this is an excellent book about the most unlikely of heroes. It is a hidden gem, disguised from the average customer by a clumsy title and odd cover art. Vladimir Voinovich is not a name that most readers would recognize either, but he was a daring and talented satirist. Having read some of his short stories as a student of Russian literature, I knew this was an opportunity to pick up a first-rate book at second-rate pricing. This book may have limited appeal as far as demographics are concerned, but those who can appreciate it will be laughing out loud at this display of Soviet obtuseness! Chonkin is given sentry detail over a plane that has malfunctioned and landed in a small collective farm. The army bureaucracy cannot transport or repair the plane promptly, so the utterly disposable Chonkin is sent to stand guard. He is promptly forgotten by the army and enmeshed in the collective. When the army does take notice of Chonkin again it sends a regiment to flush him and his non-existent gang out of their midst! Voinovich paints a wickedly funny portrait of the Soviet Army and collective farms, but he saves his best shots for Stalin, his favorite target. In scenes that resemble a Monty Python sketch, Voinovich repeatedly spoofs Stalin, the glorious leader who is still revered by some Russians. Chonkin himself is a lump of coal that will never be a diamond, but this book is a gem to be treasured by those readers who delight in riotous satire!

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One Response to “A Hidden Gem”

  1. love this book!

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