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The Foundation Pit (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 4 Nov 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics (4 Nov. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099529742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099529743
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"startlingly prophetic novel ... As a foretaste of the horrors of the gulag, that's pretty hard to beat"--Mail on Sunday

"While earlier efforts to render The Foundation Pit in English made perhaps too much sense of Platonov's classic, the new translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Meerson, which was first published by the visionaries at New York Review Books, preserves all the ambiguities and woodenness of Platonov's Russian prose"--Artforum

"Andrey Platonov is one of Russia's greatest modernist scribes. Like his fellow science-fiction writer Yevgeny Zamyatin - author of the astonishing futurist novel We, published in the 20s - he was also among that tortured country's most prescient literary artists...The Foundation Pit, written in 1930 and now published for the first time in English, is his most striking attempt to convey the extreme estrangement suffered by ordinary people as collectivisation in agriculture proceeded across the of the most prophetic nihilistic tales of this ruined century."--The West Australian

"Completed in 1930 but unpublished during his lifetime, Platonov's masterpiece, a scathing satire of the Soviet attempt to build a workers' utopia, gauges the vast human tragedy of Stalinism, portraying a society organized and regimented around a monstrous lie, and thus bereft of meaning, hope, integrity, humanity...His dark parable is a great dirge for Mother Russia as well as a savage analysis of the split consciousness fostered by an oppressive system. Platonov's books are still being unearthed in Russia decades after his death."--Publishers Weekly

"Andrey Platonov's absurdist parable The Foundation Pit is a masterly achievement... Much of the genius of The Foundation Pit lies in Platonov's objective style and the lively invariably abusive dialogue, contrasting with oddly moving, isolated asides of brittle beauty. It is a Russian Waiting for Godot crossed with Lewis Carroll and Maxim Gorky - there is even a bear working as an apprentice blacksmith, frantically making horseshoes as if there were no tomorrow. And in this book, there isn't. According to the late Joseph Brodsky, Platonov 'simply had a tendency to see his words to their logical - that is absurd, that is totally paralyzing end. In other words, like no other Russian writer before or after him Platonov was able to reveal a self destructive, eschatological element within the language itself.' The Foundation Pit is extraordinary: strange, almost abrupt, a hallucinatory, nightmarish parable of hysterical laughter and terrifying silences."--The Irish Times

"These books are indescribable. The power of devastation they inflict upon their subject matter exceeds by far any demands of social criticism and should be measured in units that have very little to do with literature as such."--Joseph Brodsky

“A 20th-century Russian masterpiece... The Foundation Pit is a savage satire on collectivisation, a nightmarish vision of humanity trapped by the infernal machinery of totalitarianism... Platonov's grimly comic vision of a brave new world is as universal in its implications as any other account of a hellish utopia our century has produced... the dance of madness in The Foundation Pit is articulated as the suppression of anything human - sorrow and joy, hope and despair."--The Sydney Morning Herald

"Like Candide, Platonov's novel is a plotless allegory of human striving...The forced industrialisation of Russia, which began in 1928 and is the historical background of The Foundation Pit, left an estimated 15.2m dead. Even if one considers Platonov's masterpiece merely as a conte philosophique, one may note that his model universe was more amply observed than Voltaire's. He was also a writer perhaps the only writer to have advanced Russian prose beyond what had been achieved by Chekhov..."--The Times

"Brilliant...Obviously a masterpiece."--Paul Theroux

“Among the greatest Russian prose writers of this century.”--New York Times

“In Russia it is Platonov who is increasingly described as the best writer of the post-revolutionary epoch.”--Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

New translation of this powerful political satire set in Stalinist Russia

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. J. on 1 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
Archetypally Russian. This means, of course, more over-emoting than is found in most operas. Russian literary characters have always reminded me of Elmer Fudd (Elmer Fuddovich?), the seemingly bi-polar nemesis of Bugs Bunny. Fudd's moods, in a five minute Looney Tunes cartoon, run the full gamut, from murderous to vengeful to bashful to melancholy and so on. One moment he loves Bugs, is contrite for trying to kill him, cries even, the next he is intent on extreme violence once again. Much the same is on display here: lots of hand wringing, soulful gazing into the distance, gulping down tears, and angry exchanges.

The plot of The Foundation Pit is, quite frankly, as threadbare as the plot of one of these cartoons, although it is built around a satisfyingly satirical idea. A group of workers are engaged in digging the foundation pit of the title, upon which is to be erected a house that will be inhabited by the whole of the proletariat. Chortle. The primary concern of the novel is the tension between one's desires as an individual and one's responsibility to the whole state. Collectivisation, a kind of pooling of agricultural resources, which involved an order for farmers to give up the best of their possessions, features heavily.

It is worth bearing in mind that Platonov was writing this stuff whilst it was actually happening, not after the event, and he ought to be admired for his bravery. But bravery does not make a masterpiece, otherwise Ivan Denisovich would be one, so what then earns The Foundation Pit those 5 stars? The prose. His style, in this novel in particular, is exhilarating, is so odd and uniquely his own that many criticise the translation, believing an inept translator to be the only reasonable explanation for their own struggles with the text.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. R. Birkhead on 8 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those who have already read Platonov and finished a book by him, I imagine the feeling upon completion must be the same as mine: astonishment. How could such a writer not be well known, as well known as Tolstoy and Chekov? How could such a writer have remained dormant when he has essential things to say about Russia and existence in general? Because he says them beautifully, and profoundly. Because I imagine Platonov to be the prose equivalent of Scriabin, both essentially mystics and whose work swings into and out of fashion according to the taste of the times. However, both were exceptionally talented - and if not geniuses, certainly almost - and because of their singlemindedness seem to have slipped from (modern) view.

Whilst not being of the `daily bread' (like Tolstoy or Dostoyevski) ilk of literature, Platonov's prose is like unleavened bread: it is dense, poetic, didactic and precise. More philosophical than political, the words seem to be sourced from a truly sacred place. The syntax is startlingly original and almost makes you read in a completely different frame of mind, savouring all of the idiosyncracies and subtle nuances that the author evokes. Indeed, some of the images contained in this work are brilliant, beautiful, resounding and really compelling. The poetic touches, such as when he describes the snow which does not melt, falling on a mare's head is a touch of the sublime! Even the minute details of the landscape - the frost, the burdock, the congealing coldness of rivers - are laden with such positive descriptive elements as to leap into your mind as live images.

This is certainly the work of a philosopher, if not a mystic. Truth is the reason and the goal for such writing and Platonov makes not bones about hiding such aims and intentions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. B. Aegerter on 29 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had not heard of Platonov until I discovered this book. I am a big fan of Russian classics so I was keen to give it a go. It is a challenging read. The narrative can be difficult to follow/interpret at times as much of it is written in a very random style (presumably to reflect the randomness of the lives the characters were forced to live). The novel creates a very grim and depressing picture of the disastrous collectivisation programme to the point where everything takes on a surreal quality and at times I almost felt I was being sucked into the nightmare. The characters seem more like caricatures and much requires clarification. Several times I felt like giving up (not like me) but I did stick with it. I can't say I enjoyed it as such, but it was a challenge and certainly not like anything I have read before (or imagine I ever will again). It is certainly an experience and is a must for any fellow disciples of the Russian greats.
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Format: Paperback
I’m sure there are plenty of things about the novel to study as part of a class on cubism, but to the casual reader of Russian literature it’s just really disorientating (no doubt that’s intentional) and boring. I’ll stick with Bulgakov for my Soviet-era satire. The pages of dry humour relating to farm collectivisation didn’t really do it for me.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The hole we dig for ourselves 30 April 2012
By James Ferguson - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read an earlier translation by Robert Chandler. Platonov had been a long overlooked Soviet writer. His works had been banned for many years, but fortunately his daughter kept his manuscripts and was able to get The Foundation Pit and other stories published during the Perestroika era of the 80s. Chandler offers a faithful if not very lively translation of this important novel. Platonov was a contemporary of Orwell and shared many of the same misgivings about the rise of the Soviet state, which was one reason this book never found its way into print during the Stalin regime.

Volkov notes in Magical Chorus that Platonov might have met the same fate as his novel if it had not been for Vasily Grossman, who pleaded with Stalin to spare this gifted writer and got him a job as a war correspondent during WWII. But, Platonov could never get anything more than a few short stories published at the time.

The story goes back to the early years of collectivization when a group of construction workers are called into to rid a village of its Kulaks, and reform the farming town into an ideal collective. The foundation pit refers to a foundation that workers are digging for a large social housing project. It is never big enough, and work continues day and night, with the exhausted diggers returning to a cabin where they sleep on the floor. Unrest in the village leads the Soviet official to call in the workers. Platonov crafted his dialog from the slogans used during the time, creating a harsh and often repellent language, especially when spoken through a young orphan girl, which the construction workers have adopted. You can sense both the symbolism and the absurdity of the Soviet avant-garde at the time.

Chandler seems to warm up to the absurd nature of the story in the second half, when even the local animals become part of the action. The most amazing creature is a large bear that works as an iron smith, pounding away with all his force on the hot metal, singing songs to the collectivist state. He is also used to sniff out the Kulaks. Even the horses get into the action, collectivizing themselves. You would almost wonder if Orwell stole a few lines from this story had it not been printed at the time.

There is a strong theatrical sense to the story that left me imagining it played out on stage. He did write plays, including Fourteen Little Red Huts, which satirizes George Bernard Shaw's visit to the Soviet Union. Shaw had fallen under Stalin's spell and refused to accept the famine Stalin had engineered in Ukraine at the time.
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