The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin

by Vladimir Voinovich.Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.00. Chonkin is a harmless military misfit until, on the verge of Hitler’s attack on Russia, he is assigned to guard a broken-down plane in the midst of an incompetent collective farm. Thanks to rattled officers, stupid farmers, obtuse bureaucrats, blundering secret police, and bad telephone connections, he ends up as The Chonkin Gang, terror of the countryside. He has, of course, simply done his lonely duty. Mr. Voinovich is a wizard with burlesque comic invention. The novel bounces from one zany episode to another, demolishing en route the Red Army, Soviet science, agrarian progress, and Communist policy. Even Beautiful Mother Russia gets a kick in the birch trees, for the collective farm is a sea of mud and the weather is steadily frightful. The tale is the more entertaining because the characters, while distinctly Russian in detail, are basically international nuisances. Predictably, this hilarious satire has been denied publication in the Soviet Union. Translated by Richard Lourie.