PRETENDER TO THE THRONE: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich

PRETENDER TO THE THRONE: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Voinovich's broadly farcical foolery takes up where The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (1977) left off: with blank-slate, bowlegged Chonkin in the Dolgov-town slammer for having endlessly stood guard over a disabled plane during World War II. . . and for somehow taking an entire company of fellow Russian soldiers prisoner. But when Chonkin finally comes to trial, he's also charged with being a White Russian prince named Golitsyn; how this misunderstanding came about is the plot's first jump. And since somersault is the basic move in Voinovich's narrative circus, Chonkin/Golitsyn is (through further foul-up) believed by Hitler himself to be a valuable Nazi fifth-columnist--whereas Stalin regards him as a hero for being responsible for the German swerve away from Moscow and toward Dolgov (for a Chonkin-rescue). Meanwhile, Chonkin sits stock-still in prison, the idiot supreme, as various ranks of KGB-ers and functionaries trip over themselves to disassociate themselves from his seemingly infinite subversiveness: they're informing on, implicating, accusing, and jailing one another in a frenzy. (Funniest is the newspaper editor who, discovering a misprint--""gelding"" for ""gilding""--in an article on Stalin's thought, then goes about, impossibly mortified, begging to have himself arrested without further delay.) Voinovich's comedy remains crude and virile (not unlike Vonnegut's); and though the tumbling is nonstop, the book frequently seems forced and a little tedious. With none of the subtle intellectualism of a Zinoviev, it's a parody of classical Stalinism done with a grease pencil: good for a few out-loud laughs but also wobbly and without a center.

Pub Date: July 31st, 1981
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux