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Happy Moscow [Paperback]

Andrey Platonov
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
RRP: 12.99
Price: 10.06 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

29 Sep 2009

Moscow in the 1930s is the consummate symbol of the Soviet paradise, a fairy-tale capital where, in Stalin's words, "life has become better, life has become merrier". In Happy Moscow Platonov exposes the gulf between this premature triumphal­ism and the harsh reality of low living standards and even lower expectations. For in Stalin's ideal city there is no longer a place for those who do not fit the bright, shining image of the new men and women of the future. The heroine, Moscow Chestnova, is an Everywoman, both virgin and whore, who flits from man to man, fascinated by the brave new world supposedly taking shape around her. In a variety of styles ranging from the grotesque to the sentimental to the absurd, Platonov lays bare the ways in which language itself has been debased, even borrowing slogans from Stalin's own speeches for comic effect.

In an age of spin doctors and soundbites, this anarchic satire has as much resonance as ever.

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Happy Moscow + The Foundation Pit (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press (29 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846553423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846553424
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 359,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Andrey Platonov is the most exciting Russian writer to be rediscovered since the end of the Soviet Union. -- The Independent, Sept 25, 2001

Even in translation Platonov's prose is extraordinary. This first English edition brings one of Russia's great writers to light. -- Play (supplement to the Times), August 25, 2001

In Platonov's prose it is impossible to find a single dull or inelegant sentence. -- The Times, August 22, 2001

Translated with what appears scrupulous imagination, HAPPY MOSCOW is stirringly readable (...) taking the air from totalitarian bombast. -- The Observer, October 21, 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Shortlisted for Weidenfeld European Translation Prize 2002 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a find of Russian literature 22 Sep 2009
Moscow is a young Muscovite lady who passes effortlessly through a series of short lived romances with a range of helpless and hapless characters- scientists, dropouts and intellectuals. Using a range of Soviet slogans from the Stalin era Platonov creates a haunting atmosphere of despair, the reasons for which are never explicit but always close to the surface. The cheerful world of Socialism has a veneer with a very unhappy underbelly constantly struggling to deceive itself. The slogans in this respect not unlike Mantras.
Platonov's prose is haunting, poetic and rich in intellectual content requiring rereading on frequent occasions, a reflection i think of multilayered meanings allegorical, and for the times, concealed political protest.
This is a book that ranks as one of the best of Russian literature that I have read.
Rich in meaning explicit and implicit with a cadence and rhythm that gives it a poetic majesty. In this respect it is also a work of love by its translater R Chandler who has captured splendidly a style and content that touches the reader deeply with the lightest of touches.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, but Can be Difficult 17 Feb 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Happy Moscow is a wonderful, though difficult, book. A cross between satire and the picaresque, it's loaded with symbolism. To get the most out of it, I think one must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Stalinist Russia.
Happy Moscow, through its heroine, Moscow Chestnova, sets aside blithe idealism and explores the gulf that, in reality, existed between Stalin's "triumphant" socialism and the low living standards and bleak expectations of the people.
Moscow Chestnova, the heroine of Happy Moscow, was never meant to be seen as an individual. She's Every Citizen, the idea and the ideal of Stalinist Collectivity. More than anything, Moscow Chestnova cares; she embraces fully Dostoyevsky's mandate that "All are responsible for all." She cares about cleanliness, the proper heating of water, the driving of piles into the Moscow River. Following Stalinist ideology, she's the ideal every man desires and she gives of herself freely to anyone who asks. In Moscow Chestnova's world, as in Stalin's Moscow, there will always be room for "one more."
Just as Moscow Chestnova seeks to transcend the limits of individuality in favor of collectivity, so do the other characters in this book. One, in particular, buys a new passport and thus changes his identity. He goes on to acquire a new job, a new wife and a new family...all in the name of communist idealism.
Moscow Chestnova, of course, is eventually repelled by what she had, at first, embraced. She feels the isolation of the people, the lack of peace in their homes and in their lives and the oppressive sadness that covers the city like a blanket. Moscow finally comes to realize that even as individuals have been ignored, collectivity has gone to hell.
The language used in Happy Moscow ranges from the hilarious to the grotesque. Stylistically, the book is often absurd in its juxtapositions. Puns are rarely used for comic effect alone; they often contain important ideological or philosophical commentary. Platonov also has a unique ability of recontextualizing Stalin's rhetoric (drawn from his own speeches) in ludicrous parody and metaphor.
Happy Moscow is a gem of a book. It is a book, that, like the city of Moscow, herself, is, by turns, comic, creative, grotesque, and bizarre, yet ultimately crippled. It's a shame this book is not more widely read and better known.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More essential Andrey Platonov 27 Nov 2012
By Penelope V. Burt - Published on Amazon.com
This is an easy book to recommend and a hard book to review. Happy Moscow is a relatively late and unfinished novel by Andrey Platonov, now considered one of the masters of twentieth-century Russian prose. This edition is a revised version of an earlier translation by Robert Chandler and his associates, now with introduction, annotations, and a number of other related works (the beautiful essay "On the First Socialist Tragedy" alone is almost worth the price of the book, warning about the consequences of "messing around" with nature). Happy Moscow is considerably less jaunty (though sometimes biting or funny-odd) than the title might indicate--the heroine (a parachutist) descends from the air to take on the job of building the Moscow metro, where she loses a leg. The other main protagonist, Sartorius, also moves from being a celebrated engineer to a man who in all humility goes in search of another identity. Moscow is the name of the heroine and the name of a city undergoing rapid change under Stalin: a fiddler plays by an decrepit apartment building, right next to where a rather alarming experimental medical institute is brightly under construction.

Reading Platonov can become almost addictive. Everything adds to and complicates your sense of this astonishing and elusive writer. The man is deeply sincere and truthful; he is on the side of the widows and the orphans and things that other people throw away. That being said, I would suggest that as a first approach to Platonov's world you might first read Soul: And Other Stories (New York Review Books Classics) (especially "The Return"--but really, the whole volume is wonderful) or The Foundation Pit (New York Review Books Classics). But any route will do. Just read him. Happy Moscow is another gift from Chandler and his co-translators in service of an indispensable author.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Complete Moscow Kit 15 Feb 2013
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
First, let's break down this book into its components. The longest section is HAPPY MOSCOW, a 110-page novella written by Platonov in the 1930s, but published posthumously only in 1991; more on this in a moment. The remaining 150 pages are essentially supportive materials, appendices, and footnotes. There are three essays by the principal translator, Robert Chandler, which are both scholarly and helpful. Then there are two short stories, an essay, and a screenplay, each of which explores similar themes to the novella, uses the same symbols, or features some of the same characters; the longest of them, "The Moscow Violin," is especially interesting in that it recycles almost identical passages, but in a different order and to different effect. The book ends with thirty pages of scholarly notes set in small type, and a bibliography. So rather than being a collection of stories, this is more like a complete kit for understanding the title novella and placing it in historical and scholarly context. While the novella itself is relatively approachable, the volume as a whole is not for the casual reader.

Reading HAPPY MOSCOW itself, I could only think of words beginning with the letter S: symbolic, surrealistic, satirical. None of these terms entirely fits, but in combination they do. Moscow, of course, is the name of the city; it is also the first name of the principal female character, Moscow Ivanova Chestnova. An orphan, brought up in a state children's home, she is sponsored by an idealistic apparatchik to train as a pilot and parachutist, reaching fame and notoriety when her parachute catches fire and she descends on the city like a sparkling firework. Numerous men fall in love with her, and the book follows her as she moves from one to the other, even as her own life symbolically descends from the skies to under the earth, when she becomes a construction worker on the new Moscow metro.

In a helpful stroke early in his introduction, the translator quotes a visitor to Moscow in 1935 complaining that the only maps available of the city portrayed either Moscow's past or its future, but not its present. There were maps from 1924, showing buildings that had since been torn down and roads rerouted. There were maps showing what the city would look like following the Ten Year Reconstruction Plan. But people were so intent on looking at the great leap forward that they had no interest in the temporary state of the city under their feet. Platonov's book is full of a similar idealism. This is most clearly shown by the men who help the heroine. We have the civil servant Bozhko, who uses Esperanto to correspond all over the world, in the hope of recruiting others to Socialist ideals. We have the engineer Sartorius, who is convinced that the problems of collectivization can be solved by the invention of a more perfect balance beam for weighing produce. We have the surgeon Sambikin, who has located the precise site of the soul in the large intestine, and claims to have found the essence of eternal life released in the bodies of the newly dead.

Symbolism, surrealism, satire. Moscow the person is clearly in part a symbol for Moscow the city, but not all her actions are easily translatable. Many of Platonov's descriptions verge on surrealism, but then I suspect that Soviet Russia had more than a little surrealism of its own. And while Platonov's writing seems satirical, Chandler suggests that he may initially have been trying to win the approval of his political masters, whose own propaganda was scarcely less fantastic. In short, this is a unique and often brilliant book, but a perplexing one -- and there is far more here that any but the most serious student could want.
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