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Ivan Chonkin is a simple, bumbling peasant who has been drafted into the Red Army. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he is sent to an obscure village with one week's ration of canned meat and orders to guard a downed plane. Apparently forgotten by his unit, Chonkin resumes his life as a peasant and passes the war tending the village postmistress's garden. Just a Ivan Chonkin is a simple, bumbling peasant who has been drafted into the Red Army. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he is sent to an obscure village with one week's ration of canned meat and orders to guard a downed plane. Apparently forgotten by his unit, Chonkin resumes his life as a peasant and passes the war tending the village postmistress's garden. Just after the German invasion, the secret police discover this mysterious soldier lurking behind the front line. Their pursuit of Chonkin and his determined resistance lead to wild skirmishes and slapstick encounters.


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Ivan Chonkin is a simple, bumbling peasant who has been drafted into the Red Army. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he is sent to an obscure village with one week's ration of canned meat and orders to guard a downed plane. Apparently forgotten by his unit, Chonkin resumes his life as a peasant and passes the war tending the village postmistress's garden. Just a Ivan Chonkin is a simple, bumbling peasant who has been drafted into the Red Army. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he is sent to an obscure village with one week's ration of canned meat and orders to guard a downed plane. Apparently forgotten by his unit, Chonkin resumes his life as a peasant and passes the war tending the village postmistress's garden. Just after the German invasion, the secret police discover this mysterious soldier lurking behind the front line. Their pursuit of Chonkin and his determined resistance lead to wild skirmishes and slapstick encounters.

30 review for The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    Short, bowlegged, big red ears, field shirt sticking out over his belt, Private Ivan Chonkin, the hero of Vladimir Voinovich’s novel, has been likened to Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk, and for good reason – like Švejk, Chonkin is an everyman forever at war with the forces - political, military, social, whatever - that use the iron fist of power in an attempt to obliterate a person’s unique individuality and humanity. Squarely in the great tradition of satire and the absurdist fiction of Short, bowlegged, big red ears, field shirt sticking out over his belt, Private Ivan Chonkin, the hero of Vladimir Voinovich’s novel, has been likened to Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk, and for good reason – like Švejk, Chonkin is an everyman forever at war with the forces - political, military, social, whatever - that use the iron fist of power in an attempt to obliterate a person’s unique individuality and humanity. Squarely in the great tradition of satire and the absurdist fiction of Gogol, Kharms and Zabolotsky, with The Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin Vladimir Voinovich served up enough anti-Soviet zingers to contribute to his eventually getting kicked out of the country and stripped of his citizenship. The storyline is simple: a pilot of a Soviet aircraft makes a forced landing in the farming village of Krasnoye near his Air Force base. Private Ivan Chonkin is sent to guard the military’s property. I so much enjoyed the novel’s narrator telling readers directly how he amassed information on the subject of Chonkin and the village and added a little something of his own. And how he would have taken a tall, well built, disciplined military hero for his main character but all those crack students of military and political theory where already taken up and all he was left with was Chonkin. However, he urges us to treat his novel’s hero (Chonkin) as we would our very own child since when we have a child we get what we get and don’t throw the kid out the window. Likewise, I relished the Mikhail Bulgakovesque dream sequences that gave Mr. Voinovich the opportunity to flex his creative imagination. Chonkin has his first dream when he’s sleeping in bed with Nyurka, his new girlfriend from the village. He watches as none other than Comrade Stalin slowly descends from the sky holding his rifle and wearing a woman’s dress. Stalin tells the sergeant in charge that Private Chonkin abandoned his post guarding the aircraft, lost his combat weapon and therefore deserves to be shot. In our hero’s second dream, he attends a wedding reception where the groom and all the guests turn out to be not humans but pigs. Oh, no, he's been duped! Chonkin realizes he has blurted out a classified military secret to the first person (actually a pig) he ran into at the table. And one of the dire consequences of his fatal mistake? Humanork is on the menu! A tray bearing naked Comrade Stalin holding his famous pipe, all garnished with onions and green peas. Stalin grins slyly to himself behind his mustache. The third dream is another doozy. This time the dreamer is Gladishev, one of the villagers who is a prototypical Soviet “new” man of science. In Gladishev’s dream his horse Osya informs him in plain Russian that he is no longer a horse but a human being. Gladishev says if Osya is a true Soviet human he would go to the front to fight the Germans. Osya replies that Gladishev is the dumbest person in the world since he should know a horse doesn’t have fingers to pull a trigger. These are but snatches catching several colorful, hilarious bits. What's noteworthy is the way these dreams reinforce a major theme running throughout the novel: the prevailing Soviet system is a complete misreading of the rhythms of nature and life. Such an inept, ass-backwards system will lead men like Gladishev to do such things as fill his house with shit, even eat shit and drink water mixed with shit, based on scientific and materialistic calculations that all life is nourished by shit. Such a misreading has its effect on all areas of Soviet life and community. For instance, at one village meeting the chairman of the local kolkhoz (collective farm) chastises members who fail to work the minimum number of workdays. Among the Comrades singled out for a tongue lashing is Zhikin, one of those who flaunts his age and illnesses. The chairman goes on: “Of course I realize that Zhikin is a disabled Civil War veteran and has not legs. But now he’s cashing in on those legs of his. . . Let him sit himself down in a furrow and crawl from bush to bush at his own speed, weeding as he goes and thereby fulfilling the minimum workday requirements.” The chairman also is vocal when the village learns of the German offensive against their country: “The war will write everything off. The main thing’s to get to the front as fast as possible; there either you get a chest full of metals or a head full of bullets, but either way, at least you can live like an honest man.” Such Soviet wisdom peppers every page. This is a very funny book. But as you are laughing, Comrades, you will be brought face-to-face with life on a community farm and in the military that is downright cruel and brutalizing. One last example that really tickled my funny-bone. The narrator relays a rapid change of chairmen over at another village. The first chairman was put in jail for stealing, the second for seducing minors, and the third took to drinking and kept on drinking until he drank up everything he owned and all the kolkhoz funds. Things got so bad he hanged himself but left a one world suicide note – “Ech” with three exclamation points. The narrator tells us nobody figured out what that “Ech!!!” was supposed to mean. Actually, even as an American in 2018 I have a pretty good idea what he was getting at with his “Ech!!!” --- I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANY MORE!!! Having read The Fur Hat and Moscow 2042 I wanted to treat myself to Vladimir Voinovich’s classic earlier work. I’m glad I did. I enjoy laughing and this novel provided ample opportunities. I can see why Ivan Chonkin is now a widely known figure in Russian popular culture. Vladimir Voinovich, Born 1932 "Kuzma Gladishev was known as a learned man not only in Krasnoye but in the entire area. One of the many proofs of his erudition was the wooden outhouse in his garden, on which was written in large black letters, in English, WATER CLOSET." - Vladimir Voinovich, The Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This has been called 'the Russian Švejk', and I can certainly see that. It's a farce; and it kept me smiling then laughing, at a little sly humor or at outright buffoonery. Skewering the communist system: A meeting is an arrangement whereby a large number of people gather together, some to say what they really do not think, some not to say what they really do. Or the foolishness of war: Chonkin did not learn about what had happened (Barbarossa) immediately because he was sitting in the outhouse, i This has been called 'the Russian Švejk', and I can certainly see that. It's a farce; and it kept me smiling then laughing, at a little sly humor or at outright buffoonery. Skewering the communist system: A meeting is an arrangement whereby a large number of people gather together, some to say what they really do not think, some not to say what they really do. Or the foolishness of war: Chonkin did not learn about what had happened (Barbarossa) immediately because he was sitting in the outhouse, in no hurry to leave. The laugh out loud part is when, through a misunderstanding, a Russian officer escaping from Chonkin is thought by other Russian officials to be a German soldier. He has to be interrogated, right? So they find some junior lieutenant who 'studied' German in school. What he actually learned pretty much began and ended with : Heute ist das Wasser warm. But in he goes to question 'the German'. The poor Russian officer wakes from a concussion, thanks to a rifle butt to the jaw, and is groggily confronted by this soldier barking some Guten Morgen, Herr at him. Thinking himself captured by the Nazis, he starts shouting Heil Hitler! Stalin kaput! I was entertained. _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ Not that these star rating thingies really matter, but I bumped this up a half-star because Vladimir Voinovich is the guy who carried the micro-filmed pages of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate to the West. That has to count for something.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Chonkin a hapless, stupid soldier, is a classic Ivan from a folk tale who although simple and straight forward will win through in the end. Taken out of his environment and placed in another ecosystem things quickly look very different. Sent to guard an aeroplane that was forced to land in a village, the dumbest soldier in the Red Army becomes the cleverest man for miles around. There he finds true love in the shape of the cleverest woman in the village (view spoiler)[ a woman who is beautifully Chonkin a hapless, stupid soldier, is a classic Ivan from a folk tale who although simple and straight forward will win through in the end. Taken out of his environment and placed in another ecosystem things quickly look very different. Sent to guard an aeroplane that was forced to land in a village, the dumbest soldier in the Red Army becomes the cleverest man for miles around. There he finds true love in the shape of the cleverest woman in the village (view spoiler)[ a woman who is beautifully described as ' literate', to contextualise her response in a moment of crisis (hide spoiler)] which plainly is right and appropriate. Alas the craziness of the world ensures that things rapidly go wrong in order to maintain the comedy, but not too badly wrong since Voinovich was able to continue the story in a sequel Pretender to the Throne (view spoiler)[ admittedly though this a sequel that can be happily and productively missed (hide spoiler)] . One of the few books with a joke featuring Stalin's two wives, as well as a man trying to develop a plant which grows potatoes at the root and fruits tomatoes off the stem too.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    Vladimir Voinovich's Chonkin is a good foray into the Russian muzhik's (commoner's) psyche. Born and raised a farmer in Stalin's time, Ivan gets called to the army, where he embarks first unbeknowingly then unwillingly into an adventure that will change (spoiler: and end) his life. Chronicling this journey, the author gets to talk about the "joys" of real-Communism: indoctrination of simple people who can barely speak (not to mention write), formation of cliques for sharing the little local powe Vladimir Voinovich's Chonkin is a good foray into the Russian muzhik's (commoner's) psyche. Born and raised a farmer in Stalin's time, Ivan gets called to the army, where he embarks first unbeknowingly then unwillingly into an adventure that will change (spoiler: and end) his life. Chronicling this journey, the author gets to talk about the "joys" of real-Communism: indoctrination of simple people who can barely speak (not to mention write), formation of cliques for sharing the little local power, propagation of meaningless orders from the top, the "wireless phone"---lossy or faulty transmission of messages through human chains---, obliteration of personal opinion, etc. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, Voinovich adopts a cynical, tragicomical tone; thus, this story can be seen as a Russian take on Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War. Poorly educated and easily dumbfounded, Chonkin is perhaps a less lovable character than Svejk; it is perhaps because of this that Voinovich makes his story take surreal and oneiric turns. What I disliked about this work is the rather thin story---much thinner than in Moscow 2042, by the same author---, the lack of powerful characters---a characteristic of Voinovich's work, as far as I can tell---, and the often rough wording---Voinovich is no Russian classic. Overall, a nice read but overall not inspiring.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Namrirru

    Yikes! How does this have such a bad "rating?" This book is hilarious! Every sentence and every page is tickle your tummy funny. Voinovich channels Gogol's anti-hero Chichikov in Chonkin, a petty soldier sent to guard a broken down airplane in the middle of nowhere. His troubles start with a cow... and get more and more ridiculous! Yikes! How does this have such a bad "rating?" This book is hilarious! Every sentence and every page is tickle your tummy funny. Voinovich channels Gogol's anti-hero Chichikov in Chonkin, a petty soldier sent to guard a broken down airplane in the middle of nowhere. His troubles start with a cow... and get more and more ridiculous!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I didn’t laugh until the Molotov cocktails started flying. This book probably wouldn’t mean anything to those who don’t know the history of the USSR. The absurdity of life brilliantly portrayed in this book is founded on the evil reality of the socialist system. Innocent people executed, anonymous condemnation to “The Institution”, paranoia, redistribution of possessions of anyone who has more than someone else. What I had on my mind throughout was the realization that few today understand the s I didn’t laugh until the Molotov cocktails started flying. This book probably wouldn’t mean anything to those who don’t know the history of the USSR. The absurdity of life brilliantly portrayed in this book is founded on the evil reality of the socialist system. Innocent people executed, anonymous condemnation to “The Institution”, paranoia, redistribution of possessions of anyone who has more than someone else. What I had on my mind throughout was the realization that few today understand the scourge of this system of government. In fact, we find many now treating “communists” as cute, unique, interesting. Today Cuba is chic, Venezuela is courageous, China should be emulated. Of course, those advocating don’t intend to live there. Didn’t find this book as humorous as I expected. But there were some good lines. Perfect description of the party boss: He was always oppressed by freedom of choice. He suffered unbearably when pondering which shirt to wear that day, the green or the blue, or which boots, the old or the new. A common warning to the kolkhoz chairmen by the District Commissioner: ”Remember, you are under constant surveillance.” Chilling to think that how true this warning would be if they had the technology we have today. 3 Stars

  7. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This was brilliant and hilarious. One of the best satires of Russian life under Stalin and really made fun of his cult of personality in a way that is unmatched. Definitely going to track down Book 2 and perhaps Book 3. Recommended for those who have a vague sense of Stalin's collectivization ideals and for those who like Vonnegut. This was brilliant and hilarious. One of the best satires of Russian life under Stalin and really made fun of his cult of personality in a way that is unmatched. Definitely going to track down Book 2 and perhaps Book 3. Recommended for those who have a vague sense of Stalin's collectivization ideals and for those who like Vonnegut.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chuck LoPresti

    Private Chonkin is breezy and hilarious read about a quixotic failure of a hero that serves as a compendium of communist dunderheads, snollygosters, lickspittles, boozers and bedpressers. A more complete catalog of nincompoopery – I am not familiar with. Voinovich’s piss-take on communist society should leave no attentive reader with a straight face. There’s little gravity in the style of Voinovich’s writing as he’s obviously focused on mockery. But style aside – unseating the power of communist Private Chonkin is breezy and hilarious read about a quixotic failure of a hero that serves as a compendium of communist dunderheads, snollygosters, lickspittles, boozers and bedpressers. A more complete catalog of nincompoopery – I am not familiar with. Voinovich’s piss-take on communist society should leave no attentive reader with a straight face. There’s little gravity in the style of Voinovich’s writing as he’s obviously focused on mockery. But style aside – unseating the power of communist oppression shouldn't be a laughing matter but something tells me that the day Voinovich learned of his loss of Russian citizenship there was probably more than a few laughs in his house. The character development is a bit sparse around the periphery but that’s not an impediment to the appreciation of this brief read. The prose is breezy but not plain and anything not serving to advocate laughter is presented in almost apologetic tones. Judgment and mockery are doled out in equal measures and for a change it’s only the two main women – Chonkins’ love and a home brewing granny that are both pained in mainly positive tones but even their graces pale in comparison to a pig and a horse. So add Gogol’s wit, Swift’s social criticism, Zoschenko’s humor in the face of oppression that is shared by Orkeny and you’ll get something very much like Voinovich. V. should be sainted for his assistance in bringing Grossman’s Life and Fate to print and his sense of humor places him properly at the right hand of Groucho. I've seen some less than glowing reviews of this book and I’m not sure who wouldn't appreciate this other than those that might have approached it by force or without any appreciation of political satire. Concise, hilarious and loads of fun – this qualifies as a classic in my opinion at least. This shares a space on my shelf next to Moscow to the End of the Line as the most hilariously entertaining Russian books I've read. One spoiler: do not drink every home brew you are offered.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is perhaps the funniest book I have read all year. It tells the tale of a simpleton Russian soldier named Ivan Chonkin who is sent to guard a plane that came down in the village of Krasnoye. As the Germans picked this time to invade Russia, Chonkin is forgotten. He begins a relationship with the local postmistress and all seems well... ...until his neighbor whose plants were destroyed by the postmistress's cow turns him in as a deserte The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is perhaps the funniest book I have read all year. It tells the tale of a simpleton Russian soldier named Ivan Chonkin who is sent to guard a plane that came down in the village of Krasnoye. As the Germans picked this time to invade Russia, Chonkin is forgotten. He begins a relationship with the local postmistress and all seems well... ...until his neighbor whose plants were destroyed by the postmistress's cow turns him in as a deserter. A detachment of NKVD -- the predecessors of the KGB -- is sent to arrest him, and is arrested in turn by Chonkin. More and more people from headquarters start showing up. The end is a hilarious confrontation when the imprisoned NKVD officer is in turn imprisoned by the Russian army, who mistake him for a German. The NKVD officer plays along, yelling "Heil Hitler! Stalin kaputt!" Vladimir Voinovich has, in Chonkin created a classic of humor comparable to Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk. In many ways, Voinovich's novel is even better.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    Private Chonkin has frequently been called the Schweik of Stalinist Russia. Like Schweik he uses his extraordinary stupidity to outwit his persecutors. Unfortunately, for Chonkin Stalin's communist apparatchiks were far more skilled persecutors than Franz Joseph's Imperial bureaucrats. Whereas Schweik survives and prospers, Chonkin inevitably is dispatched to the Gulag. Gogol and Bulgakov are the only two Russian writers that I am aware of who possess the same level of talent in comic writing as Private Chonkin has frequently been called the Schweik of Stalinist Russia. Like Schweik he uses his extraordinary stupidity to outwit his persecutors. Unfortunately, for Chonkin Stalin's communist apparatchiks were far more skilled persecutors than Franz Joseph's Imperial bureaucrats. Whereas Schweik survives and prospers, Chonkin inevitably is dispatched to the Gulag. Gogol and Bulgakov are the only two Russian writers that I am aware of who possess the same level of talent in comic writing as Voinovich. This book is great fun and highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in Stalin's Russia.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Érika

    It's one of the funniest and wittiest books I've ever read! It's one of the funniest and wittiest books I've ever read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Latchford

    A witty, fun Soviet Satire. Only 311 pages and not too intimidating, I inhaled this book and enjoyed it a lot. If you like The Master and Margarita you will also like this book!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kobe Bryant

    Very good book with a lot of cool moments like people having dreams about animals turning into people, the guy who was crossbreeding potatoes and tomatoes and made manure vodka, the old Jewish guy whose last name was Stalin, etc

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I came across this book browsing around Goodreads, and thought it sounded alright. In fact, it's more than alright, it's a classic of the ridiculous humour found in the best East European novels. The Red Army doesn't come out of it very well, so it's no surprise it wasn't published in the USSR! I'll say no more, to avoid spoiling the denouement for prospective readers! Strongly recommended! I came across this book browsing around Goodreads, and thought it sounded alright. In fact, it's more than alright, it's a classic of the ridiculous humour found in the best East European novels. The Red Army doesn't come out of it very well, so it's no surprise it wasn't published in the USSR! I'll say no more, to avoid spoiling the denouement for prospective readers! Strongly recommended!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fernando Pestana da Costa

    This is a modern classic written in the 1960s and it is likely to be the best known of all Voinovich's books. Right before the start of German's invasion of the USSR the not too clever soldier Ivan Vasilyevich Chonkin is given the mission of guarding an old biplane that had made an emergency landing in a somewhat remote village of the Russian countryside. Scheduled to last just one week, Chonkin's mission is prolonged by several weeks and then, with the start of the war, Chonkin is all but aband This is a modern classic written in the 1960s and it is likely to be the best known of all Voinovich's books. Right before the start of German's invasion of the USSR the not too clever soldier Ivan Vasilyevich Chonkin is given the mission of guarding an old biplane that had made an emergency landing in a somewhat remote village of the Russian countryside. Scheduled to last just one week, Chonkin's mission is prolonged by several weeks and then, with the start of the war, Chonkin is all but abandoned by his regiment leaving for the front. Chonkin gradually becomes part of the village and of its kolkhoz life. Then, after an ugly wrangle with one of his neighbors, Chonkin is denounced to the political police (the "Institution", as it is called in the book) as a deserter and a spy. From that moment on a series of misunderstandings led to the final dramatic denouement. The book is a funny critique of Soviet life, with a good number of very hilarious situations, some of them very unexpected, as when Chonkin discovers his neighbor gives him to drink one of his home made brews (made out of a very peculiar ingredient!), others widely unlikely, as the scene of the interrogation by Captain Milyaga of the "Institution" of an old Jew with an improbable name. Still others are a lot subtler, as when Captain Milyaga, believing to think "logically", commits a typical logical error. Like these there are many very funny situations that make this book, originally written as a critique of the Soviet regime, still very much worth reading today, almost half century after it was first published, in 1969, in Russian by a West German publisher.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    It must be that the language of the original cannot really be translated into English. Or else you have to be a lot more familiar with Russian history and individual politicians/soldiers to understand who is being parodied. I found this amusing but not as devastatingly funny and cutting as other reviews have stated.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vitaly Belman

    This is among the funniest books I've read. You do need some background knowledge about the political situation of Russia in 1940 to appreciate the humor, but if you have general interest and understanding of the Soviet era, I recommend this book highly. As a comparison, to a much more popular "12 chairs" book, I found this one a lot funnier. This is among the funniest books I've read. You do need some background knowledge about the political situation of Russia in 1940 to appreciate the humor, but if you have general interest and understanding of the Soviet era, I recommend this book highly. As a comparison, to a much more popular "12 chairs" book, I found this one a lot funnier.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I started this and laughed...for some reason never finished it. Need to go back.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    I was laughing so hard during the last one hundred pages that I could hardly breathe.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Will

    The Russian Good Soldier Svejk. Gets extra marks because the author smuggled Life and Fate out of the Soviet Union.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I usually don't laugh at books that are supposed to be funny, especially ones that fall under the category of satire. I find a lot of allegedly funny writers try to be clever and end up being obnoxiously smarmy. There's no real humor in an author attempting to present him/herself as more intelligent than the book's characters. There is, however, plenty of humor in a guy finding out he just drank a glass of human shit. The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is a very funny b I usually don't laugh at books that are supposed to be funny, especially ones that fall under the category of satire. I find a lot of allegedly funny writers try to be clever and end up being obnoxiously smarmy. There's no real humor in an author attempting to present him/herself as more intelligent than the book's characters. There is, however, plenty of humor in a guy finding out he just drank a glass of human shit. The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is a very funny book as well as an impressive satirical depiction of the pre-WW2 USSR. Having previously read The Ivankiad, I was already aware of Vladimir Voinovich's ability to lampoon Soviet bureaucracy, but this is on another level. Voinovich has created a vibrant collective farm filled with citizens who, despite their exaggerated, comical personalities, struggle with many of the real problems faced by Russian peasants throughout the reign of Stalin. Voinovich is at his funniest when writing about dreams. Ivan Chonkin and his neighbor Gladischev are ridiculous people who dream about even more ridiculous things based entirely on their inability to participate in normal human conversations. Their misunderstandings of how the world works and how the people around them think and feel lead to amazing nighttime hallucinations. My only qualm with the book is the inconsistency of Chonkin's stupidity. He's in general a bumbling fool, but there are points where he's somehow stupid enough to ask a high-ranking Communist official about Stalin having two wives while at the same time smart enough to solve a food shortage crisis using a Soviet intelligence unit that he managed to singlehandedly capture. These wild swings in capability were a bit much to handle, and I felt intense sympathy for Nyura, a wonderful woman who just happened to pick the wrong man at the wrong time to be her partner. Voinovich died this summer at the age of 85. While his most significant achievement may have been sneaking Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate out of the Soviet Union, it would be a shame to ignore his own literary output, much of which took the same bravery to write as Grossman's did. Voinovich was a significant voice as a Soviet dissident and one of the funniest writers in the USSR or anywhere else, so I highly recommend reading (and laughing at) all he created.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    A light hearted satire of life in the former Soviet Union just as WWII breaks out. (how could it not be funny?) It has been called the Soviet Catch-22. I'm not sure I would go that far in my praise. Lots of earthy humour, casual misogyny and four or five too many dream sequences (the ideal number, IMHO, is Zero). In spite of all that, it is an amusing little story of a hapless soldier who triumphs over the odds to become a local hero in the little town where he has been stationed. Voinovich uses A light hearted satire of life in the former Soviet Union just as WWII breaks out. (how could it not be funny?) It has been called the Soviet Catch-22. I'm not sure I would go that far in my praise. Lots of earthy humour, casual misogyny and four or five too many dream sequences (the ideal number, IMHO, is Zero). In spite of all that, it is an amusing little story of a hapless soldier who triumphs over the odds to become a local hero in the little town where he has been stationed. Voinovich uses that framework to ruthlessly mock life under Stalin and all of its absurdities. Translated from the original Russian into English, I can't help but feel that the humour suffers a bit in the process. I can't be sure, of course, but the translation seems too literal to me. I feel the translator would have benefited his work if he had exercised a bit more artistic license and interpreted some of the dialogue in a more colloquial style. But I can see how that might be a gutsy and presumptuous thing for a translator to do. Most noteworthy for me is the fact that the author was hounded by the KGB for years after writing this book (surprise!) and was eventually exiled. However, he was rehabilitated under Gorbachev and returned to Moscow where he continued to be a thorn in the side of the government - even under Putin. You just have to admire that kind of audacity. In a perfect world, I would give this book a 2.7 rating. But Goodreads forces me to up it to a 3.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David

    Ivan Chonkin is a surprisingly balanced protagonist. He's fortunate but not happy-go-lucky, a quality I detest in characters. He runs on just enough presence and smarts to get by. He's a fool for sure and so he suffers for it, but that ends up being more satisfying than anything because a hard life is simply what a fool deserves. He finds himself in hot water ironically by first being forgotten because he is so forgettable, but his incidental presence where he is left becomes an unendurable cond Ivan Chonkin is a surprisingly balanced protagonist. He's fortunate but not happy-go-lucky, a quality I detest in characters. He runs on just enough presence and smarts to get by. He's a fool for sure and so he suffers for it, but that ends up being more satisfying than anything because a hard life is simply what a fool deserves. He finds himself in hot water ironically by first being forgotten because he is so forgettable, but his incidental presence where he is left becomes an unendurable condition by his superiors who of course don't recall how he ended up there in the first place. His romance with the local girl, Nyura, is believable and entertaining. The way he bumbles along in his new pseudo-civilian life makes his later emergence as a formidable force so ridiculous and unexpected. The dynamic between this civilian-soldier hybrid, the military hierarchy, the district handcuffed to production quotas, and the heavily overpowering presence of ideological demands on one and all produce a horrifying but hilarious result. This book has serious charm. It steadily proves lighthearted and great for laughs, but all the while I was thinking, "...but [such-and-such an event] was so close to becoming utterly disastrous."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is a satirical novel that exposes the absurdity of life under totalitarian reign. Private Ivan Chonkin is a member of the Red Army. He is not a very good soldier and is sent to guard a fallen plane in the rural village of Krasnoye - because there is no one better available to do so. Shortly after his arrival, Chonkin takes up residence with one of the local women, Nyura, and together they share a quiet life - it seems everyone has for The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is a satirical novel that exposes the absurdity of life under totalitarian reign. Private Ivan Chonkin is a member of the Red Army. He is not a very good soldier and is sent to guard a fallen plane in the rural village of Krasnoye - because there is no one better available to do so. Shortly after his arrival, Chonkin takes up residence with one of the local women, Nyura, and together they share a quiet life - it seems everyone has forgotten about Chonkin entirely. The novel is immensely entertaining. It is brimming with bawdy humour. Best of all, perhaps, it features the flawless logic applied by the rule-abiding totalitarian system which makes for some hilarious exchanges. Honestly, I had never heard fo this book before a friend lent it to me - but it was a really enjoyable novel and is one I would highly recommend to those seeking a good laugh. On a final note: it features the wonderful pet pig, Borka, who brings me great joy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    [1932-2018] At the end of the novel are the dates "1963-1970". This Penguin edition says book was published in Russian in Frankfurt 1969. I laughed so many times! Voinovich is a genius getting so much humor out of this story! Very enjoyable. Although it ridicules nearly every aspect of Soviet government and military under Stalin, we must admit that all of it is painfully recognizable, painfully human. Who among us is not greedy? Who among us doesn't want the only food available for ourselves? Who [1932-2018] At the end of the novel are the dates "1963-1970". This Penguin edition says book was published in Russian in Frankfurt 1969. I laughed so many times! Voinovich is a genius getting so much humor out of this story! Very enjoyable. Although it ridicules nearly every aspect of Soviet government and military under Stalin, we must admit that all of it is painfully recognizable, painfully human. Who among us is not greedy? Who among us doesn't want the only food available for ourselves? Who dares to tell the truth to an official with the power of executing you in a second? Along the way, we learn a lot about daily life on the commune // in the farming village under Stalin. Richard Lourie did a great job on the translation. It reads very naturally. Only a few Russian terms are used, and we get used to them pretty easily. Michel Krielaars: Vladimir Vojnovitsj is een van de geestigste schrijvers die ik ken. Zijn roman De merkwaardige lotgevallen van soldaat Ivan Tsjonkin (1975) kun je keer op keer herlezen om telkens weer om iets anders te moeten schaterlachen. ... „Hun hoop is gevestigd op een sterke leider die voor rechtvaardigheid zorgt en met ijzeren hand regeert”, zei hij. „Een leider die zegt wat ze moeten doen en hoe ze moeten leven.” [2002] Ook had hij een verklaring voor de onderdanigheid van zijn landgenoten: „Het kost tijd om van een voormalige totalitaire staat een normaal land te maken. Eerst moet het Sovjet-gedrag verdwijnen dat zeventig jaar heeft bestaan. Sovjet-burgers respecteerden tenslotte geen enkele wet. Hun samenleving was er een waar iedereen tegen elkaar loog. Voor hen bestonden alleen de ongeschreven regels van het leven. En dat laatste zie je nog steeds.”

  27. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Ivan Čonkin is a USSR version of soldier Švejk, but his misunderstandings and adventures seem to be written by Ilf & Petrov with occasional level of absurdity going up to Monty Python level. The novel just flows and I couldn't stop myself from finishing it almost in one sitting, wondering how messed up the adventure can get and how many misunderstandings can there be due to poor phone lines and everyone being afraid of USSR's (well, original) Big Brother, Stalin. Bizarre characters who get conne Ivan Čonkin is a USSR version of soldier Švejk, but his misunderstandings and adventures seem to be written by Ilf & Petrov with occasional level of absurdity going up to Monty Python level. The novel just flows and I couldn't stop myself from finishing it almost in one sitting, wondering how messed up the adventure can get and how many misunderstandings can there be due to poor phone lines and everyone being afraid of USSR's (well, original) Big Brother, Stalin. Bizarre characters who get connected by a chain of coincidences and end up in a story which ultimately makes sense and is funny and intelligent. Not to mention a great critique of Stalin's regime and policies.

  28. 4 out of 5

    ger

    A novel of such gentle humour is difficult to write and maintain a consistent narrative. I give this 5 stars precisely because of the success with which Voinovich carries it off. He turns the entire USSR and it's bureaucratic underpinnings into a sort of Bertie Wooster without a Jeeves to save the day. Right up to the last sentence he kills with a thousand small laughs. A novel of such gentle humour is difficult to write and maintain a consistent narrative. I give this 5 stars precisely because of the success with which Voinovich carries it off. He turns the entire USSR and it's bureaucratic underpinnings into a sort of Bertie Wooster without a Jeeves to save the day. Right up to the last sentence he kills with a thousand small laughs.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Switzer

    Maybe this is a poor translation. I loved the concept of the book as written in the jacket blurb, but it is written in a simplistic fashion. I stopped at page 73; life is too short to plow through a book I don't like in order to say I've finished. Maybe this is a poor translation. I loved the concept of the book as written in the jacket blurb, but it is written in a simplistic fashion. I stopped at page 73; life is too short to plow through a book I don't like in order to say I've finished.

  30. 5 out of 5

    William

    A very funny worthwhile book. I enjoyed the delightful humor and thought the translation preserved it well. I was a little surprised that a book with views that could be construed as a little anti communist could be published in late 1960s Soviet Union.

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