Platanov's book of stories includes seven tales ranging in length from seven to 114 pages. "Dzahn," the longest and the first in the book, is a dazzling display of imagery and empathy and is a must read for writers who have not yet tasted Platonov. In fact,if this review were written exclusively for writers, I would rate the book as a "five" simply for the learning opportunity. Dzahn's plot is subtle and often submerged in description. The story reminded me of eating a piece of rich cheesecake; one can only have a few bites before taking respite from the richness of his language and thought. It would likely disengage a genre devotee within a single page. Dzahn's finale makes it easy to imagine a Soviet censor finding the author's weak commitment to collectivization.
The shorter stories are more tightly conceived. Of these my favorites are "Homecoming," and the title piece, "The Fierce and Beautiful World." Most of the stories take common motifs and enrich them with the character's behavior and thought that in many (most?) other settings might feel unrealistic. Imagine the mail carrier Frosya, from "Fro," so overcome with her imagined loss of her husband because she hasn't received a letter for two weeks after he leaves for a new job in China, that she begins screaming while making her rounds. I know kids today that might do that if they don't get a tweet after a day or so, but this was the rural Soviet Union of the 1930's and 40's. And yet, the depth and sensitivity of Platonov's insight into Fro's search for happiness enables such behavior to withstand the scrutiny of a hardened cynic. His narrators and characters have a humanity and an empathic concern that surprises those of us who imagined the Soviet system as utterly dehumanizing.
Tatayana Tolstaya's Introduction (also translated), serves its purpose. For the newcomer to Platonov, it is a welcome opening to him and his world and well worth re-reading after finishing the book. At the end she offers an insight into the author that perhaps explains his sensitivity to the human condition. "Platonov wrote," she says of his youth, 'I know that I am one of the most insignificant people.... For you being a man is just a habit-- for me it is a joy, a holiday.' No wonder the Party was suspicious of his commitment to materialism.
Disclaimer: I cannot evaluate the translation by Joseph Barnes but even with Platanov's wildly creative and sometimes disjunctive, use of language and imagery, the text appears awkward in places.