presents a detailed summary of:
THE LIFE AND AMAZING ADVENTURESby Vladimir Voinovich
OF SOLDIER IVAN CHONKIN
BOOK ONE: "THE UNTOUCHABLE"
THE PLOT IN SHORT
Ivan Chonkin, a not-too-bright soldier, is sent to guard a damaged plane that was forced to land at a kolkhoz in the village of Krasnoye. He meets Nura Belyasheva, the village postmistress. They become romantically involved, and Chonkin moves in with her, taking on housekeeping duties in addition to his job of guarding the plane.
For a while the villagers suspect Chonkin of being an inspector sent by the government to spy on them.
World War II breaks out, and the army completely forgets about Chonkin and his mission.
Through Chonkin's carelessness, Nura's cow escapes and enters the garden of her neighbor, Kuzma Matveevich Gladyshev, who is working on developing a potato-tomato hybrid called the PUKS. The cow eats all the PUKS plants. In retaliation, Gladyshev sends an anonymous denunciation to the local secret police, calling Chonkin a deserter.
The entire staff of the raion secret police, including Capitan Milyaga, come to arrest Chonkin, but like a good soldier, he refuses to abandon his post. He and Nura arrest the secret policemen. Chonkin sets his prisoners to work on the kolkhoz, harvesting potatoes. As a result, the kolkhoz is the only one in the area which gathers the harvest in on time, resulting in positive reports about the kolkhoz chairman Golubev being sent all the way to Moscow and to Stalin himself.
It takes several weeks before anyone misses the raion secret police staff. Revkin, the raion First Secretary, finally calls Golubev and learns of their arrest.
The authorities decide that this “Chonkin” must be the leader of a group of German parachutists who have landed here in the rear to disrupt economic activity. An infantry batallion is sent to surround Nura's house.
One night, Milyaga escapes from Nura's house. As soon as he gets out of the yard, he is knocked unconscious by a Russian commando. The Russians assume Milyaga is a German and interrogate him in German. Milyaga assumes he has been captured by Germans and decides to save his life by telling them what an important person he is. He says he works for the Russian “Gestapo”. The Russians, of course, think this means he's a member of the Nazi Gestapo on Russian territory. Eventually, Milyaga realizes his mistake and tries to straighten things out, but he's so confused speaking half German and half Russian that he accidentally says, “Long live Comrade Hitler!” This, of course, seals his fate. He is shot.
A full-fledged assault on Chonkin's position begins. Chonkin, with Nura's help, uses the machine gun in the airplane to hold the attackers off for a while. But a well-placed artillery shot dislodges him.
The Russian general is shocked to find that his regiment had been held off by a single soldier, a Red Army soldier. He declares Chonkin a hero and gives him a medal. The secret police then show the general the order for Chonkin's arrest. The general declares that his order giving the medal to Chonkin is rescinded. Chonkin, the general says, is really a traitor who was merely pretending to be a hero to win the trust of the people. Chonkin is arrested and taken away.
1. It was right before the outbreak of World War II, in late May or early June 1941. Nura Belyashova, a postal worker in the village of Krasnoye, was digging up potatoes in her garden. She is startled and almost hit by an airplane which suddenly descends for an emergency landing. The pilot gets out of the cockpit and calls to a peasant named Plechevoi who is mowing grass nearby. The pilot asks where he is. Plechevoi immediately launches into a long-winded discourse on the area and its history. This is the kolkhoz "Red Corn". In the neighboring kolkhoz, "Voroshilov", they've had three chairmen in the last two years. The first was put in jail for robbery, the second for seduction of minors, and the third drank up all his personal possessions as well as drinking up all the cash from the kolkhoz account before hanging himself, leaving a note consisting of only one word: "Ekh!!!"
The plane is then surrounded by interested peasants and the kolkhoz chairman, Ivan Timofeevich Golubev. Things haven't been going too well in the kolkhoz recently, and Golubev was expecting that someday an central Inspector would should up and make him pay for the poor situation. Therefore, Golubev assumes that this plane carries just such an inspector. But the pilot announces that his oil pump broke and the engine stopped. Golubev offers the services of their tractor mechanic, but the pilot declines.
The pilot says he wants to telephone headquarters immediately. Golubev is alarmed. "Don't you want to talk with the people, first?" he asks. Fearing impending doom, Golubev nonetheless escorts the pilot to the telephone in his office.
2. At an army base 120 kilometers away, Sergeant-Major Peskov is ordering Ivan Vasilievich Chonkin, a bow-legged soldier in his last year of service, to repeatedly throw himself down prone on the ground, then jump back up and stand at attention. This is a punishment for Chonkin's inability to salute properly.
Captain Zavgorodny gets a telephone call, telling him about the downed plane. He goes to report to his superior, the Major. Zavgorodny knocks on the door and requests permission to enter. The major denies him permission, but Zavgorodny enters anyway and reports. Soon, the major and Zavgorodny are meeting with regimental commander Lieutenant-Colonel Opalikov, regimental engineer Kuldai, and aerodrome commander Lieutenant-Colonel Pakhomov. Kuldai reports that they won't be able to get a spare motor from divisional headquarters for at least a week. Opalikov decides that while waiting for the new motor, they must assign some soldiers to guard the plane. As Chonkin is the only soldier not currently out on other assignments, he is chosen. Pakhomov tries in vain to protest.
3. Chonkin's history: His mother, Maryana, a widow, lived in a village that was on a crossroads during the civil war days. Many soldiers, red and white alike, passed by and stopped in her home. Once, a certain ensign Golitsyn, with a very unclear relation to the princely family of the same name, stayed for a week. When Ivan Chonkin was born a year or more later, people said that it was not without the prince's participation. Suspicions also fell on a local shepherd named Seryozha, but he denied it.
His mother died when he was six, and he was taken in by another family named Chonkin. They taught him various tasks like turning the hay and sorting potatoes and even paid him a little for this. For this exploitation of labor, the Chonkins were labeled kulaks and exiled. Chonkin spent two years in an orphanage, then returned to his home village where he worked on a dairy farm. When he entered the army, the commander took one look at him and assigned him to the stables and the kitchen. Chonkin did not acquire any specialization in the army but was nonetheless satisfied. He learned the basic army rules, such as "Don't hurry to fulfill an order. It might be rescinded."
4. Chonkin is at an open-air political meeting with other soldiers, led by political instructor Yartsev. The topic is "The Moral Aspect of a Red Army Fighter." During the instruction, some soldiers are reading "Madame Bovary", others are playing "Sea Battle" ("Battleship"). Samushkin, the soldier sitting next to Chonkin, whispers to him, "You know, Stalin had two wives. If you don't believe me, ask Yartsev."
Chonkin raises his hand and asks, "Is it true that Stalin had two wives." Yartsev, of course, flies into a rage, denouncing Chonkin for his lack of political maturity and vigilance, saying that Chonkin is a valuable find for our enemies, who are always looking for even the smallest crack through which to insinuate their harmful ideas. Yartsev says Chonkin disgraces the entire Red Army.
Chonkin is saved further harangue when a messenger arrives to summon him back to the barracks. Chonkin decides to never again ask questions.
5. Chonkin reports to Peskov, who tells him to go to his barracks and read the rules and regulations concerning guard and garrison duty. Pakhomov then comes in and is outraged to hear about this delay. He orders Peskov to get Chonkin a ration pack for a week's duty.
Peskov hurries to the storehouse, where quartermaster Dudkin is sleeping at a table, his elbows resting on the table and his chin resting on his crossed hands. The chin slips off the hands and slams down on the table. Dudkin drowsily opens his eyes, looks at the table suspiciously, but nonetheless puts his chin back on his hands and closes his eyes again. Peskov enters and startles Dudkin, who once again slams down onto the table with his chin. "Are your teeth okay", Peskov asks, looking at Dudkin's chin with admiration for its durability. "My teeth are okay," says Dudkin, "but I'm worried I might have to send the table out for repair." Peskov gets Chonkin's ration pack and exits. Dudkin again puts his chin on his hands and closes his eyes.
6. Chonkin is flown to Krasnoye and left alone to guard the plane. On guard duty, a soldier is not supposed to eat, drink, smoke, laugh, talk, etc., etc. While marching around the plane, Chonkin violated regulations and sang to himself. He wanders over to Nura's house and asks for some water. He then jumps over the fence and starts helping her dig up potatoes.
7. Nura was 24 years old and lived all alone. Her two older brothers died when they were young. Her mother died four years ago. After her mother's death, her father moved to the city, first to do construction work, but then he joined the local police force, patrolling the market and tossing out speculators. He remarried, had another child, and lost contact with Nura. In her loneliness, Nura treated her animals like people, like children--her cow, chickens and especially her boar, Borka.
Nura gets some moonshine vodka, lays the table, and invites Chonkin in for dinner. He hesitates, worrying about the plane. But Nura assures him no one will touch it. So, Chonkin gets his ration and sausage and joins Nura. After a few glasses of vodka, he begins the seduction of Nura.
8. Chonkin's Dream: Chonkin wakes up and sees that Samushkin has hitched up a horse to the airplane. Samushkin jumps in the cockpit and snaps the reins. The horse starts flying in the air, pulling the plane up with it. Chonkin races after it, but is slowed down by the weight of his sack and rifle. Realizing that this rifle is useless because the sergeant-major forgot to give him bullets, he tosses it away. He speeds up and is just about to catch up with the plane when the sergeant-major appears before him and demands, "Why aren't you saluting?" As punishment, he orders Chonkin to march around the post ten times and salute it. But Chonkin doesn't see any post. The sergeant-major rips out Chonkin's right eye and points it into the distance. Chonkin sees the post. He takes back the eye and moves it toward the post. But he remembers the airplane and turns back to it. The plane is hovering in the air with the horse helplessly trying to pull it. Political instructor Yartsev appears, turns into a bug, and whispers to Chonkin: "Comrade Stalin doesn't have any wives because he himself is a woman." Stalin then descends from the sky, wearing a woman's dress, with a moustache and a pipe in his lips. He is holding Chonkin's rifle. Stalin tells the sergeant-major that Chonkin abandoned his post and lost his rifle. For this, Stalin says, Chonkin should be shot. The sergeant-major orders Chonkin to lie down. A shot rings out--
"Comrade Stalin doesn't have any wives because he himself is a woman."
Chonkin wakes up in a cold sweat. He is in Nura's bed with Nura. That morning, Chonkin dismantles part of Nura's fence, pulls the airplane into her garden, then reassembles the fence.
9. Kolkhoz chairman Golubev was always racked by doubts - whether to have eggs or potatoes for breakfast; whether to wear his blue shirt or white shirt, his old shoes or new shoes. It's true that over the past 20 years, the country was doing what it could to give him no reason to doubt, but still doubts remained. Raikom Second Secretary Borisov often told Golubev to give up these doubts, adding, "You are being closely watched." However, he said that to everyone; and no one, not even Borisov himself, knew what he meant by it.
At a raikom meeting, Borisov spoke to Golubev next to a bust of Stalin. He chastised Golubev for not allocating kolkhoz funds for a diagram showing the growth of industrial production. Golubev thought it was a waste of money and was adamant against it. Borisov was enraged and, for emphasis, angrily pounded his fist on the head of Stalin's bust. Then, realizing what he has just done, a look of terror comes over Borisov's fact. Golubev is also terrified because he witnessed the affront to the great leader. They both remember the story of a schoolboy who was shooting at his teacher with a slingshot. He missed the teacher and shattered the glass over Stalin's portrait. And where that boy is today no one knows. Borisov and Golubev quickly move away from the bust. Borisov offers Golubev a cigarette. Then in a casual, calm, and friendly tone Borisov mildly suggest that political agitation is important. Golubev agrees. Before parting, Borisov, as usual, reminds Golubev in a lowered voice that he is being watched.
Golubev stops in the Tea House for his usual beer and shot of vodka. Plechevoi is there, too, and tells Golubev that Chonkin has become a regular housekeeper at Nura's, cleaning and even sewing. Plechevoi says there are rumors that Chonkin is really here to conduct a secret investigation and that the kolkhoz might be dissolved. Golubev dismisses these rumors, but decides to visit Chonkin and firmly ask what his real purpose is.
10. When sent to Krasnoye, Chonkin was told he'd be there a week. Well, a week and a half has passed and he has received no word from his base...not to mention no additional rations. Trying to figure out what to do, Chonkin decides to consult with Nura's neighbor, Kuzma Matveevich Gladyshev, who has a reputation as a learned man. Not only does Gladyshev have "Water closet" written in English letters over the entrance to his outhouse, but he is also working on developing a hybrid potato-tomato plant -- a plant that will grow potatoes underground while also producing tomatoes on its above-ground vine. He named this future plant the "Path to Socialism" (Put k Sotsialismu), or PUKS for short. He turned his garden over to this experiment completely-which is why he has to buy potatoes and tomatoes from his neighbors. The PUKS was already developing some definite characteristics: its stem and leaves looked just like those of a potato plant, and its root system was just like a tomato's.
11. At Nura's, Chonkin, wearing an apron, hauled in the water, chopped wood, fed the boar Borka, then sat down with some embroidery to pass the time until Nura returned. A five-year-old girl passes. Chonkin asks her whom she loves more, her mother or her father. She says she loves Stalin.
-Little girl whom do you love more, mama or papa?
Chonkin is worried. He was sent here for a week, and a week and a half has passed with no word from headquarters. So, with Gladyshev's help, he writes a letter to his commander Pakhomov, reporting that nothing has happened and requesting additional rations and a change of uniform.
12. Golubev goes to visit Chonkin to sound him out. Mistaking Chonkin's simplicity for cunning and intelligence, Golubev gets angry and shouts that Chonkin doesn't fool him. Golubev says things are no worse here than on other kolkhozes. Sure, they sowed seed on frozen ground last year, but that was on orders from above. He tells Chonkin to go ahead and report whatever he wants. "Write that the chairman is debauched, that I'm a drunkard." Then he announces, "I've been drinking and you can smell it on me!" And with that, he steps close to Chonkin and breathes right into his face. Golubev challenges Chonkin to take his party card or even send him to prison; anything, he says, is better than this cat-and-mouse game. Golubev then storms out.
Golubev returns to his office. Waiting to speak with him is Lesha Zharov, who has just returned from three years in prison for stealing a sack of flour. Golubev queries him about life in prison and is relieved to find out that it isn't so bad. They have movies, amateur entertainments, three meals a day. The amateur entertainments are particularly good because several prominent artists of national reputation are locked up, as are a whole slew of professors and intellectuals. In many ways, prison life sounds better than life on the kolkhoz. Golubev hasn't seen a movie for 6 months or so and sometimes he doesn't even get two meals a day. Golubev promises to find Zharov some employment on the kolkhoz.
13. Chonkin has been in Krasnoye for three weeks now. He does not know that Nura did not mail his letter to headquarters. Instead, she secretly burned it, hoping that the army might completely forget about Chonkin, leaving him to her.
Plechevoi advises Chonkin to marry Nura, because she's a fine woman who hasn't dallied with men. She's shared her bed only with Borka (the boar). This unsettles Chonkin, who goes to Nura and demands that she explain her relationship with Borka. They argue. Chonkin says they have to slaughter Borka to put an end to all rumors. Nura refuses. Chonkin says she must choose between him and Borka. Nura still refuses to have Borka killed. Chonkin takes his things and storms out. He goes to sleep by the airplane.
14. Chonkin's Second Dream. Plechevoi wakes up Chonkin and leads him through a forest until they reach Nura's house, which is crowded with people, all moving their mouths but making no sound. They enter the house into a long corridor with people melting in and out of the walls. At the end of the corridor, Chonkin and Plechevoi move through the wall into a large banquet hall, where Nura's wedding celebration is in progress.
Chonkin and Plechevoi sit down at a table where all the guests are eating directly from the plates, without any knives or forks, not even with their hands. The man sitting next to Chonkin starts asking him all sorts of questions about army life. Chonkin readily answers all the questions until he realizes that he is disclosing military secrets and that the man is writing everything down in a notebook. Chonkin tries to grab away the notebook, but the man swallows it and his pencil and smiles malevolently.
Chonkin starts throttling the man until he notices that Nura's groom is in fact Borka the boar. Chonkin looks around and sees that all the guests have turned into pigs, pounding their hooves on the tables and oinking. They all demand that Chonkin oink, too. At first he resists, but then Chonkin relents and oinks, which causes much delight among the pigs.
Meat is then brought in on trains -- human meat. Among those being served up to the pigs are Sergeant-Major Peskov, Samushkin, and Lieutenant Yartsev, the political instructor. Yartsev denounces Chonkin, saying he revealed military secrets, betrayed them all, the motherland, and Comrade Stalin himself. Stalin is also brought in on a tray. Chonkin is terrified and tries to run away, but someone holds him back.
"Oinking is so pleasant. Everyone enjoys it!"
The dream ends, and Chonkin awakens with a start, banging his head on the airplane wing. Borka is tugging at his foot. Chonkin shoves Borka away in disgust.
15. Chonkin gives Borka a kick in the snout. Then, calming down a bit, Chonkin calls Borka back and scratches him a little. He then shoves Borka away again, but not so angrily this time.
Chonkin sees that Gladyshev is working in his garden. His wife, Aphrodite, sits on the porch with their one-year-old child, Hercules, and watches Gladyshev with contempt. (Aphrodite's real name is Efrosinya, or Froska for short, but Gladyshev calls her Aphrodite because of his erudition.) Gladyshev and Aphrodite married only a year or two ago. It was hard for Gladyshev to find a wife because he keeps pots of stinky fertilizers in his house for his PUKS experiment...even throughout the winter with closed windows. After the birth of their child, Aphrodite declared war on these pots of fertilizer. There were scandals, and several times Aphrodite took Hercules and ran off to her parents, but each time they sent her back. In the end, Aphrodite surrendered and just stopped caring for herself. She was never a beauty, but now....
Chonkin strikes up a conversation with Gladyshev and admits that he slept outside because of an argument with Nura. Gladyshev lowers his voice to criticize his wife and tells Chonkin to stay clear of women -- they're only trouble. Gladyshev invites Chonkin into his house for some breakfast. As soon as Chonkin steps into the house, he is almost knocked over by the stench of the fertilizer. Gladyshev says Chonkin will soon get used to the smell, and besides, the negative attitude people have to fertilizer and dung is undeserved. Dung, he says, is the most valuable substance on Earth. "All our life comes from dung, and into dung it returns." Dung fertilizes the plants we eat, which then gets turned back into dung.
"All our life comes from dung, and into dung it will return."
Gladyshev cooks some eggs and pours out some moonshine vodka. Chonkin gulps down the vodka and chokes from the powerful effect. Gladyshev demonstrates with a match that the vodka is flammable. Chonkin says it's first-rate moonshine and asks if it was made from potatoes or beets. Gladyshev proudly answers: "It's made from dung...one kilo of dung to one kilo of sugar." Chonkin reacts with horror and rushes outside to vomit. This incites an argument between Gladyshev and Aphrodite, who takes their child and starts marching off down the road, loudly proclaiming that her name is Froska, not Aphrodite.
16. Chonkin makes up with Nura and spends the night in bed with her. As dawn begins to break, he goes out onto the porch to relieve himself. He then milks the cow and sends it out to pasture with the new herdsman, Lesha Zharov. Chonkin then goes back inside to Nura. At that very moment, the Nazis were bombing Kiev.
1. - 6. Chonkin is in the outhouse when Nura runs up to tell him, "War!" Chonkin mistakenly believes, "With America!"
The whole village gathers in front of the kolkhoz office, expecting a meeting, explanation, or orders. Inside the office, Golubev and Party organizer Kilin are frantically calling the raikom for instructions. While Golubev has his head buried in the safe to avail himself of the vodka hidden in there, Kilin finally gets through to Borisov. Borisov heaps scorn on Kilin for waiting for instructions instead of taking action on his own. (Borisov himself, however, had just been doing the same thing -- calling frantically for instructions.)
Borisov tells Kilin to call a spontaneous meeting and discuss the situation on the basis of Comrade Molotov's speech. Kilin tells Borisov that the villagers are already gathered. Hearing that the people gathered by themselves without being summoned, Borisov is enraged and accuses Kilin of fomenting anarchy. "But you wanted a spontaneous meeting", Kilin says. Borisov tells Kilin that the spontaneous must be planned, controlled, and directed.
Kilin goes outside and orders the crowd to disperse and get back to work. He puts field work brigade leaders Shikalov and Taldykin in charge of making sure everyone leaves.
After dispersing the crown, Shikalolv and Taldykin have a confusing discussion of history. (There were protests against Lenin and Stalin in 1916 even before they came to power; Kerensky was tsar before Nicholas II, who was his son; and in 1917 there may have been revolutions in other parts of Russia but not in Petersburg--Shikalov knows this because he was in Petersburg at the time.)
Back in the kolkhoz office, Kilin is busy writing the agenda for the upcoming meeting: who speaks when and what type of applause they will get (stormy, prolonged, or simple). Shikalov enters to report that the crowd has been dispersed. "Everyone?" asks Kilin. "Except for Taldykin," says Shikalov. "Shall I disperse him?"
Now that everyone has been dispersed, Kilin orders Shikalov and Taldykin to gather everyone up again for a proper meeting. Taldykin wonders about the absurdity of dispersing everyone just to call them together again, but carries out his orders nonetheless.
Kilin opens the meeting with a review of Molotov's speech. Then he recites the kolkhoz's accomplishments, its deficiencies, its current tasks, gives a review of Nikolai Ostrovsky's "How The Steel Was Tempered", etc., etc. By the time he reaches the end of his speech, all the villagers have wandered away, except for Chonkin, who is standing with his chin resting on the barrel of his rifle, thinking about something else.
"A meeting is that measure whereby a large number of people gather and some say things that they don't think and others think things that they don't say."
7. - 11. Grandma Dunya hurries into the general store. The salesclerk, Raisa, having just returned from a trip to her sister-in-law, is unaware of recent events. She is surprised when Dunya asks for 50 bars of soap, a pood of salt, a hundred boxes of matches, yeast, tea, and toothpaste. Ninka Kurzova then enters and asks for 100 bars of soap. Learning that Dunya just bought all the soap, Ninka races after her.
Ninka catches up with Dunya and demands half the soap. They argue. Ninka shoves Dunya to the ground, spills out the soap, and starts dividing it up. A huge crowd of villagers then rush up, all demanding their share of soap. A brawl ensues. Golubev and Kilin try to break up the melee. Golubev extracts one villager and tells Chonkin to guard him...and to shoot him if necessary. Chonkin then catches a glimpse of Nura in the brawling mass. He hands his rifle over to the prisoner and dives into the swirling crowd. He finds Nura and they crawl out to safety.
Golubev and Kilin finally break up the fight. Holding the sack with the remnants of soap in it, Kilin orders everyone back to the office to finish the meeting. Anyone who doesn't come along, won't get any soap.
12. - 14. When the crowd gets back to the kolkhoz office, they see that a car has arrived, filled with reporters and Liushka Myakisheva. Liushka was a poor peasant and one of the first to join the kolkhoz. She joined the Party, got married, and quickly became one of the best milkmaids. But then she rocketed to national fame when an article quoted her as saying that when she milks cows, she grabs four nipples at once, two in each hand. She was whisked off to Moscow to report to a Congress of Kolkhozniks and to Comrade Stalin himself. After that, they hardly ever saw her again on the kolkhoz. She was always presiding at the Supreme Soviet, or addressing conventions, or meeting a delegation of English farmers. There were newspaper and magazine articles on her, radio reports, film documentaries. Letters poured in from Red Army soldiers offering to marry her. The so-called Myakishev movement swept the nation with Maykishevki sharing their experience with newspapers, on the films screens, etc., leaving no one on the kolkhozes to actually milk the cows.
Liushka gives a rousing speech to the crowd, urging the men to defend the motherland and the women to take care of things at home while the men are gone. Liushka and the reporters then get back into their car and drive off.
Kilin divides the soap, salt, and matches among the villagers.
15. Some time ago Gladyshev told Chonkin that monkies evolved into people because they work. Chonkin asked, "Why not horses? They work." This question troubled Gladyshev. At night he dreams that one of the kolkhoz horses, a gelding named Osoaviakhim (or Osya for short), walks into his house and starts talking to him. Osya says he's changed into a person so he won't be hauling things to the warehouse anymore. Osya plans to go to Moscow and become a professor. Gladyshev says maybe Osya will be sent to the front. Osya says it won't happen because he can't pull a trigger--he doesn't have any fingers. Osya is also angry that Gladyshev had made him a gelding. Horses don't read or watch movies...they have only one pleasure and Gladyshev took that away from him.
When he awakens, Gladyshev goes to tell Chonkin that horses didn't become humans because they don't have fingers. When he returns home for breakfast, Gladyshev is surprised to find a horseshoe in his house. He then goes to the stables where, it turns out, Osya has in fact disappeared. The stablemaster says Osya either ran away or was stolen by gypsies.
16. Back at the army base, Lieutenant-Colonel Opalikov is about to fly off on a mission to Tranpolya when Lieutenant-Colonel Pakhomov asks what to do about Chonkin. Opalikov has to be reminded as to who Chonkin is, then says they should just leave him where he is.
17. About a week or so later, most of the men have been mobilized and sent to the front. One morning, Nura tells Chonkin to drive her cow, Krasavka, out to pasture while she cooks. Chonkin dawdles, talking to various villagers, then wanders into the sqaure in front of the kolkhoz office and listens to a speech by Stalin over the loudspeaker. Chonkin doesn't understand everything. For example, if the best divisions of the Germans have already been defeated, as Stalin says, why should we worry?
Chonkin slowly makes his way back to Nura's house and is surprised to see a large crowd gathered around Gladyshev's house. Gladyshev's garden has been trampled and laid to waste. In the garden, Gladyshev is wrestling with Nura's cow, who is responsible for the destruction, having eaten up all his PUKS plants, except for one. Gladyshev is trying to drag away the cow so he can slaughter her. Nura, in turn, is pulling on Gladyshev, begging him to relent. Chonkin enters the fray. He and Gladyshev try to drag the cow in opposite directions. They both lose their grip, the cow gets away, and gobbles up the last remaining PUKS plant. Gladyshev, overcome with grief and rage, rushes inside, gets a gun, points it at Chonkin and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. "You fool", says Aphrodite, who has been watching indifferently, "you used up all the gunpowder in your fertilizer experiments."
18. In the nearby town of Dolgov, an old man suspected of being a spy, or at least a speculator, is dragged into secret police headquarters. Capitan Afanasi Milyaga questions and roughs up the old man until--much to his surprise--he learns that the old man's name is Mosei Solomonovich Stalin! Milyaga realizes that this is not the real Stalin's father, but still he fears what would happen to him if word got out that he roughed up a Stalin--any Stalin. So he immediately releases the old man.
"Smash our own people, so that our enemies will be afraid!"
--Slogan of the Secret Police.
Milyaga then gets an anoymous letter from Krasnoye, denouncing Chonkin as a disserter and traitor, who should be at the front, but instead has taken military equipment--a rifle and an airplane--and is engaged in debauchery, drunkenness, and hooliganism. The letter says that Chonkin has also caused great harm to Soviet agriculture by permitting the destruction of an importent hybrid experiment by agronomist Gladyshev. Milyaga orders Lieutenant Filippov and the rest of the raion staff to go to Krasnoye, arrest Chonkin, and investigate this Gladyshev.
19. - 20. It was raining all day and the muddy roads were nearly impassable. As Nura goes on her mail rounds, she comes upon a car stuck in the mud. It is Filippov and six other secret policemen. They ask her directions to Krasnoye. She tells them then asks what their business is. One of them says they're going to arrest a disserter.
Nura hurries back home and awakens Chonkin. She tells him that the secret police are coming to arrest him as a disserter and that he must hide. Chonkin refuses, saying he must remain at his post.
At the kolkhoz office, Golubev is preparing a report on the harvest work. With all the men at the front, almost nothing is getting done on the kolkhoz. But Golubev writes that the goals are being met. He signs the false report. Just then, Filippov and the other secret policemen enter. "They've come for me," Golubev thinks. He realizes that the false report is evidence against him, so he gets rid of it the only way he can think of--he puts it into his mouth. Filippov greets Golubev, who can only grunt in return. Thinking that Golubev must be a deaf-mute, Filippov tries to pantomime out that they've come for a disserter. To make the point that they want to arrest Chonkin, Filippov takes out his pistol and sticks it in Golubev's stomach. Reacting in shock, Golubev stumbles and falls, smacking his head on the floor. The secret policeman can't figure out if Golubev is dead or not, so they call in accountant Volkov from the next office. Seeing Golubev's body, Volkov immediatly shouts out, "I don't know him!"
In his next breath, Volkov identifies Golubev, but swears that he only knows him professionally and never speaks to him outside the office. Filippov decides to take Volkov along as a witness to Chonkin's arrest.
21. - 22. The secret policemen--with the frightened Volkov in tow--arrive at Nura's house and approach Chonkin, who is marching up and down in front of the plane. Chonkin points his rifle at them and says, "Stop or I'll shoot!". Filippov tells him he's under arrest and fires in his general direction. The bullet misses Chonkin and lodges itself in the engine.
Chonkin hides behind the plane's fuselage and returns fire. He would have hit Filippov, but Borka jostled him. Filippov and the secret policemen throw themselves on the ground. Chonkin says he can't abandon his post unless ordered by one of his superiors or a general. Filippov waves the arrest paper, signed by the prosecutor. Chonkin is flattered that such an important person as the prosecutor would have written his name, but still he refuses to submit. Filippov charges and Chonkin fires again, hitting the arrest paper and shooting out the prosecutor's signature. Filippov again throws himself on the ground. While Chonkin keeps the secret policemen pinned down (shooting one of them in the rear end), he sends out Nura to collect their guns and tie them up.
23. - 24. Back at police headquarters, Milyaga is worried because he hasn't heard from Filippov. He tries calling the Krasnoye kolkhoz office, but no one answers. So Milyaga rides out to Krasnoye and arrives after sunset. He sees Nura and asks her if she's seen his colleagues. She tells him they're inside her house. He goes inside and finds them all tied up, guarded by Chonkin. Chonkin and Nura disarm Milyaga.
25. The disappearance of Capitan Milyaga and his entire staff went unnoticed for several days. During that time, raikom First Secretary Revkin developed a funny feeling that wherever he went--the office, meetings, even his home--he wasn't being watched. Because of this feeling, he assumes he has developed politically unhealthy attitudes. So he goes to secret police headquarters to turn himself it. But the gates are locked shut. Old women in the marketplace say the entire police staff went to Krasnoye several days ago.
Revkin calls Krasnoye and speaks to Golubev (who, it turns out, is still alive). Golubev tells him that Milyaga and his men were arrested by Chonkin and his old lady. Revkin assumes Golubev said "gang" (Banda) not "old lady" (Baba).
Various rumors immediately begin swirling about Chonkin. Some say he's a prisoner escaped from jail with his cohorts. Others think he's a White general who was hiding in China. And some claim it is really Stalin himself, come to shoot anyone bringing harm to the Soviet Union, starting with Milyaga and his men. The military authorities decide that Chonkin is the commander of some German parachutists who have been dispatched to the region to disrupt activities in the rear. An infantry regiment is sent to surround Krasnoye on three sides (the fourth side is the river).
26.-27. After holding the entire raion staff of the secret police under arrest for a few days, Nura and Chonkin ran out of food. Leaving Nura to guard the prisoners, Chonkin gets some vodka and goes to see Golubev. After some drinking, Golubev agrees to Chonkin's suggestion to put the prisoners to work on the kolkhoz and gives him a week's worth of food rations in advance.
28.-30 Beginning on the next day, the secret police begin working in the field, harvesting potatoes. Milyaga is miffed that he's been forgotten, that no one's come to rescue him.
Raion headquarters starts to hear rumors that because all the men are at the front, the potato harvest at the local kolkhozes is actually going much slower than reported. Worried, Borisov, calls Golubev, who assures him that the harvest is on schedule. An inspector comes and sees that, in fact the potatoes are being harvested on schedule (thanks to the work of Chonkin's prisoners). An article about Golubev is printed in the local paper, praising him as if to tell other kolkhoz chairmen, "Golubev can do it. Why not you?" News of Golubev's success is passed on to the oblast, and then to Moscow, where he is mentioned in a report. Someone even reports on it to Comrade Stalin personally.
Golubev assigns Chonkin's team more work. Golubev and Chonkin get drunk together to celebrate. Staggering home, Chonkin here some voices in the fields and sees the light of a cigarette tip. He shouts, "Who's there?" There is no answer and the light disappears. Chonkin assumes it was just a drunken hallucination.
31. - 32. Chonkin takes over guard duty from Nura, who goes to sleep. Milyaga says he has to relieve himself. Chonkin ties a rope around him and lets him out into the yard. Chonkin falls asleep, and when he awakens, Milyaga is gone! Outside, as Milyaga escapes, he jumps over the fence. He is immediately grabbed by two figures who knock him unconscious.
33. - 36. The unconscious and mud-covered Milyaga is brought to a barn where the Russian commandos have set up their headquarters. They assume he is a German and assign Lieutenant Bukashev, who studied a little German in school, to interrogate him when he awakens.
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When Milyaga comes to, Bukashev greets him with "Guten morgen." Milyaga naturally, assumes that he has been captured by the Germans. Milyaga decides that he can save his life by telling the "Germans" what an important person he is. The only way he can think of to say that he is in the secret police is "Russisch Gestapo." Bukashev, naturally thinks that this means Milyaga works for the Nazi Gestapo on Russian territory, so he writes this down. For good measure, Milyaga says, "Heil, Hitler! Stalin kaputt!" Bukashev also writes this down.
After interrogating Milyaga, Bukashev writes a letter to his mother, just in case he's killed in battle. He also writes an unsigned note which he intends to put in his pocket. It reads: "If I die, please consider me a communist." But he loses the note.
37. - 38. General Drynov, the general in charge of the commando operation, along with his retinue, enters the barn where Milyaga is being kept. Milyaga sees Revkin in the group. Apparently, Milyaga thinks, the "Germans" don't know who Revkin is. He decides he will prove his worth to the "Germans" by exposing Revkin to them. In broken German, Milyaga tries to tell them that Revkin is a communist, a local "fuhrer". The "Germans" are only puzzled by this, and they start talking Russian among themselves. Only then does Milyaga begin to understand his mistake. He quickly tries to explain, but he is so nervous and confused that he keeps mixing up his German and Russian words. In desperation, he tries to prove that he is a loyal Soviet citizen by shouting out in Russian, "Long live Comrade Hitler!" Of course he had intended to use a different name, but this blunder sealed his fate. The general ordered that Milyaga be shot...and the order was carried out.
39. - 40. As dawn breaks, the assault on Chonkin's position begins. The first wave approaches the fence, firing. Chonkin, in front of the house, throws himself on the ground and returns fire without aiming. Nura locks the prisoners up in the cellar and joins Chonkin, shooting with the prisoners' confiscated revolvers. Their situation looks hopeless, then Nura reminds Chonkin of the machine gun mounted in the airplane. Chonkin jumps in the airplane, but the machine gun won't pivot because it has rusted. Nura picks up the tail of the plane and moves it from side to side as Chonkin fires at the soldiers, pinning them down. The soldiers toss Molotov cocktails at Chonkin and the plane. The only problem is that no one told the soldiers to light the wicks before throwing, so they have no effect.
General Drynov orders their one piece of artillery to be placed behind Gladyshev's outhouse and from there to fire their one shell at Chonkin.
The attacking soldiers retreat, and Chonkin stops firing. He asks Nura to go get him some water. She goes in the house, then hears a tremendous bang as the artillery round is fired.
41. After the artillery shot, the soldiers charge the house, expecting to see a large mass of enemy dead. Instead, all they find is the smashed plane, Chonkin lying on the ground, and Nura kneeling over him, crying. General Drynov comes up and is surprised to see Chonkin in a Red Army uniform. He asks where Chonkin's gang is. The soldiers find the secret policemen in the cellar and lead them out. Revkin identified them as "ours", and Drynov orders that they be untied.
Chonkin regains consciousness. Seeing a general, he struggles to his feet, salutes, and starts to make a report. Drynov, incredulously asks him if he was holding off a whole attacking regiment by himself. "Not by myself," says Chonkin. "With Nura." Soldiers laugh, but Drynov angrily tells them to shut up. Drynov tells Chonkin that he is a hero. The general takes a medal off his own uniform and pins it on Chonkin's shirt.
Filippov, the secret police lieutenant, then shows Drynov the order for Chonkin's arrest. Shrugging, the general tells them to carry out their duty. They rip the medal off Chonkin's chest and lead him away. Drynov turns to his troops and says that his order giving Chonkin a medal has been rescinded. Chonkin was only pretending to be a hero so as to win our trust. He is really a traitor to the motherland.
The soldiers march out of town. Chonkin is put in a car with the secret policemen, and they drive away. Nura, crying, chases after the car, but falls in the mud as it zooms away.
42. Gladyshev comes out of his home to survey the battlefield. He finds a dead horse, killed by a stray bullet. It is the horse Osoaviakhim, which had gone missing from the kolkhoz earlier. The horse is missing one shoe, and stuck to his foot is a note which reads: "If I die, please consider me a communist." Gladyshev, for the first time in many years, crosses himself.
1963 - 1970
Voinovich, Vladimir Nikolaevich. Born 26 September 1932 in
Dushanbe. His father was a journalist, his mother a mathematics teacher. In May
of 1941 he moved to Zaporozhe with his father. Then with the war and evacuation,
he moved around a lot, living in Stavropol krai, Kubishev oblast, Vologodsky
oblast, the Crimea, and Moscow. He worked as a shepherd, carpenter, metal
worker, airplane mechanic, teacher, and editor for radio. He served in the army
from 1951 to 1955. Studied in the Pedagogical Institute for a year and a half.
While in the army, he began to write poetry, but then he switched to prose. His
first story "We Live Here" was published in Novi Mir in 1961. Other
published works include "Half a Kilometer", "I Want To Be Honest", "Two
Comrades", and "Degree of Trust". In 1962 he was accepted into the Writers
Union. In 1968 he became involved in dissident activities. In part because of
his portrayal of Soviet society in "The Life and Amazing Adventures of the
Soldier Ivan Chonkin", he was excluded from the Writers Union in 1974. In 1980
he emigrated, and in 1981 Leonid Brezhnev signed an order stripping him of his
Soviet citizenship. The order read in part, claiming Voinovich had:
...systematically taken part in activities hostile to the USSR and has brought harm to the prestige of the USSR by his activities.....Voinovich wrote back to Brezhnev:
I have not undermined the prestige of the Soviet government. The Soviet government, thanks to the efforts of its leaders and your personal contribution, has no prestige. Therefore, in all justice, you ought to revoke your own citizenship.In 1991, M.S. Gorbachev restored Voinovich's citizenship. Since 1995 Voinovich has undertaken painting and has had several exhibitions.