THE FOUNDATION PIT by Andrey Platonov


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Stalin took a personal interest in the ""engineers of souls"" so it's a wonder that Platonov ever escaped the camps. The Foundation Pit, a bitter allegory of the '30's speedup of collectivization and the concomitant wave of anti-kulak repression that resulted in five to ten million of those famous ""broken eggs,"" remained unpublished at Platonov's death in 1951 and even now is circulated only in samizdat. No wonder: it's deeply skeptical of the whole system to its Marxist-Leninist roots, counterposing the most traditional pre-revolutionary Slavic values (the love of children, the Russian soul, suffering, death) to the absurd bankruptcy of scientific materialism. The pantheon of the crew digging that foundation pit for the great ""common building for the proletariat"" cuts across Stalinist society -- bureaucrats, unionists, disgraced bourgeois, peasant kulaks and kolkhozans, priests, brooding intellectuals. This obverse of state-sanctioned tractor fiction parodies party slogans and priorities in a symbolic account of the brutal -- and ultimately counterproductive -- ""liquidation of the kulaks as a class"" (they're set afloat on a raft to the ocean). The quasi-realist style is marked with bizarreries like Mishka the unionized bear, the 100 coffins reserved in a cave for the villagers' future use, the denunciation of the activ for efficiency. While the sentimental irony sometimes degenerates into a vodka-and-balalaika lachrymosity, this is a strong evocation of a suppressed nightmare of history that contributed as much as anything else to the flowering of surrealism -- how else to fictionalize the unthinkable?

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1974
Publisher: Dutton