World Books: Digging “The Foundation Pit”
By Bill Marx
In the latest World Books podcast I talk to Robert Chandler, who along with his wife Elizabeth and Olga Meerson has translated Andrey Platonov’s novel “The Foundation Pit” for New York Review Books.
Platonov is considered by a number of critics to be the most impressive literary discovery since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian poet Joseph Brodsky hailed him as a master of language, a 20th century innovator in the same league as James Joyce and Franz Kafka.
This view has yet to be accepted in the West, though Chandler and others are helping raise his profile by providing translations of Platonov free of editorial and political mangling – Platonov, who died in 1951, suffered a lifetime of persecution, even though he was sympathetic to the goals of communism – his writing proffers an uncanny blend of the anti-utopian and the utopian.
The new translation of Platonov’s dark parable about Stalinist collectivism is based on a definitive edition of “The Foundation Pit,” which was made available in 2000. This English version reflects the influence of Samuel Beckett, its prose an unsettling mix of despair, humor, absurdity, lyricism, and empathy that marks this and other major works by Platonov. I talked to Chandler about the writer’s relationship with other authors, the difficulties of translating him into English, and the charge that Platonov is just too gloomy.
Robert Chandler has translated a number of Russian authors, including Vasily Grossman. His translations of Platonov include the volumes “Soul and Other Stories” and “The Portable Platonov.” Those who want to learn more about Platonov should read Thomas Seifrid’s excellent new critical volume “A Companion to Andrei Platonov’s “The Foundation Pit.”
And World Books is more than my weekly podcast – the online feature includes reviews, interviews, news, and commentary on international literature. You can also sign up for World Books podcasts at ITunes or The World.
Look for a new interview on the World Books page with Can Xue, a Chinese writer whose work has garnered critical accolades. Yale University Press has just published her novel “Five Spice Street.” Those who want to talk about that book or other issues about international fiction and culture should go to the World Books Facebook fan page. Agree or disagree, I want to hear from you.