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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Happy Moscow

Andrey Platonov

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To purchase Happy Moscow

Title: Happy Moscow
Author: Andrey Platonov
Genre: Various
Written: (Eng. 2001, rev. 2012)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Happy Moscow - US
Happy Moscow - UK
Happy Moscow - Canada
Happy Moscow - India
Moscou heureuse - France
  • Includes the (unfinished novel) Happy Moscow (Russian title: Счастливая Москва), written in the 1930s, 'The Moscow Violin', 'On the First Socialist Tragedy', 'Father' (a screenplay', and 'Love for the Motherland'
  • Introduction by Robert Chandler
  • Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Nadya Bourova, Angela Livingstone, Olga Meerson, and Eric Naiman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing short novel, and some interesting odds and ends

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 10/8/2001 Isobel Montgomery
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/12/2012 Liesl Schillinger
The Observer . 21/10/2001 David Vincent
The Times . 22/8/2001 Scott Bradfield
TLS . 4/1/2002 Rachel Polonsky

  From the Reviews:
  • "Happy Moscow, a recent find, is difficult satire. Platonov's language has facets that are unintelligible without a near-native understanding of Soviet communist culture." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "Their enthusiasm may bewilder readers who encounter Platonov here for the first time. Indeed, itís hard to see how any but the most esoteric scholars of the literature and politics of the period could share it. Nor does this translation, however thought-through, however reverent, present a very convincing argument for Platonovís resurrection. (...) In the pages of Happy Moscow, one finds not so much a work of fiction as a record of the deformation of creativity by ideology" - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Translated with what appears to be scrupulous imagination by Robert Chandler, Happy Moscow is stirringly readable, taking the air from totalitarian bombast and breathing new life into a neglected classic." - David Vincent, The Observer

  • "(I)n Happy Moscow, a disturbing but not like some of his work, an unremitting satire, he imagines into existence all that is beautiful, exhortant, and perhaps unattainable about revolution." - Scott Bradfield, The Times

  • "Unlike Platonov's other fictional works, whose action is set in desolate parts of where the city features only as an unattainable dream, Happy Moscow evokes the Soviet capital in the throes of its reconstruction as a monumental collectivist metropolis." - Rachel Polonsky, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The volume Happy Moscow includes the short and apparently unfinished novel that gives the collection its title, as well as some shorter pieces by Platonov -- "linked to one another and to Happy Moscow by shared images, themes, and characters", as the volume's editor and one of its translators, Robert Chandler explains -- which includes an unfilmed screenplay.
       In one of the shorter pieces Platonov explains:

     I want art to be not merely a "reflection" but a precise prophecy of new cyclopic works -- for the sake of changing the life that exists everywhere, which is like the copulation of the blind in nettles.
       Happy Moscow -- so the character's name -- isn't a true daughter of the revolution; as she notes: "I'm not a daughter, I'm an orphan !" The arresting, driven young woman ("Even your nipples look straight ahead like the tips of two metal punches", someone observes) has many talents and many admirers but comes to find: "No matter how much I live, life never turns out like I want it to." Moscow and the Soviet Union in the 1930s is presented as a vibrant and to some extent idealistic place, yet personal happiness and many satisfactions remain elusive for Happy Moscow and the other figures (including her many suitors) -- indeed, at one point Moscow even literally goes down in flames (and that's not the worst thing that happens to her).
       So too Moscow comes to the conclusion:
Love cannot be communism. I've thought and thought and I've seen that it just can't. One probably should love -- and I will love. But it's like eating food -- it's just a necessity, it's not the main life.
       Moscow's story is one of sacrifice and dedication, even as she remains an almost ethereal creature; she is both almost-Soviet-hero and tragi-comic heroine, as Platonov presents a work that is neither a simplistic reverent portrait of the idealized new Soviet man (and woman) nor entirely satirical. There is considerable enthusiasm for the Soviet project and its ideals here, as Platonov presents the incredible vibrancy and energy of Moscow life in the early revolutionary times, but he also sees that this is a world in which the easy and complete triumphs of worker and state over nature are not as clear-cut as the standard Soviet spiel of the day had it.
       Taking up one of Stalin's favorite lines, Platonov suggests:
     But man himself changes more slowly than he changes the world. This is the center of the tragedy. This is why we need creative engineers of human souls. They must prevent the danger of the human soul being left far behind by technology. Even now man is no longer on the same level as history.
       Platonov's characters willingly sacrifice for the greater good, even as his stories are of individuals. Yet Moscow and others suffer in part because they can not find fulfillment in the personal -- such as in love. A scientist, suffering a setback, disappointedly thinks:
"What's left for me now except stupidity and personal happiness ?"
       Platonov's style adds much to these pieces, his language just slightly off-kilter (and, as the translators note, a constant challenge) but the expressions quite striking. Period detail and the many personal connections that find their way into the text are explicated in some twenty pages of endnotes for the title-novel alone, which is certainly helpful; nevertheless, even outside their Soviet context Platonov's unusual storytelling here holds some appeal -- and the mix and selection here makes for a good but not overwhelming dose.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 February 2013

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Happy Moscow: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet author Andrey Platonov (Андрей Платонов) lived 1899 to 1951.

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