I am reading Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler and Olga Meerson's translation, specifically the 2009 revised version, of Platonov's 'The Foundation Pit', and it has struck me that the prose sounds incredibly unnatural. For example: (from page one of the Vintage Classics 2010 edition)

the situation in nature was quiet

(talking about how everywhere around him was quiet and peaceful)

On the anniversary of the thirtieth anniversary of his private life

Page 10:

No one was seeing dreams or conversing with memories

(after saying that the hut with men in was silent)

And here is a comparison of how some phrases changed from the older 1996 translation to the more recent one:

“down cast eyes” becomes “down bent”; “an automobile that had been driven across open countryside was being repaired” becomes “an automobile was being repaired there from going without roads”; “our sense of conviction” becomes “our convinced feeling”; a brass band that had been “droning” is now “pining”; “a youthful march” is now “the music of a young march.”

Generally it feels like a lot of sentences in this translation are very unnatural, but I can't tell whether that is because the translator has gone for a very word-for-word approach, which will generally lead to odd-sounding prose, or if the original Russian itself sounds unusual to Russians.

I have found some allusions to the prose style being odd, but nothing at all specific.

  • 1
    your second example is in the very first sentence? No, there is no double "anniversary". I took this text online. And I don't see any problems in the first example - either in English or Russian (both foreign lang. for me). I didn't look for the third and fourth example because, I suppose, it would be hard to find, you need to be more specific on where or how to locate them.
    – Andra
    Jan 3, 2023 at 16:13
  • 1
    Just for comparison, here's a translation by Mirra Ginsberg google.com.au/books/edition/The_Foundation_Pit/…
    – tgdavies
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:59

3 Answers 3


Some more reactions from Russian speakers.

Сritic Yuri Saprykin in a popular educational resource Polka:

Почему «Котлован» написан таким странным языком?
Это первое впечатление от любых текстов Платонова: знакомые слова стоят как бы в неправильном порядке; чтобы понять, о чём идёт речь, нужно прикладывать усилие. Язык Платонова можно сравнить с наивной живописью: автор будто видит мир впервые и с трудом подбирает слова, чтобы его описать.

Why is The Foundation Pit written in such a strange language?
This is the first impression of any of Platonov’s texts: familiar words are somehow in the wrong order; to understand what it means, you need to make an effort. Platonov’s language can be compared with naïve art: the author seems to see the world for the first time and struggles to find the words to describe it.

Readers’ reviews from a Russian book review site Livelib:

Какой же у автора особый слог. Мне он не очень понравился, если честно, потому что трудно читать.

The author has such a special style. I didn’t really like it, to be honest, because it’s so hard to read.

Полагаю, что немногим нравится эта повесть и ещё одной причиной тому служит язык автора. Когда впервые сталкиваешься с ним, понимаешь: он достаточно сложен и хитёр, но одновременно такой поэтичный, необычный, словно ты пробуешь новый для себя экзотический фрукт.

I believe that few people like this novel, and another reason for this is its language. When you first encounter it, you realize that it is quiet intricate and sly, but at the same time so poetic, unusual, as if you taste a new exotic fruit.

Отдельная тема - язык повести. Платонову удалось создать отвратительную смесь из простецкой устной речи и пропагандистской канцелярщины.

Another matter is the novel’s language. Platonov managed to create a disgusting mix of simplistic oral speech and official propaganda gobbledegook.

Первое, что удивляет, восхищает и пугает - это несравненный язык.

The first thing that surprises, delights and frightens is its incomparable language.

Я не могу судить язык. Вернее могу, но не хочу. Аннотация нас убеждает, что

Написанные "в усилии к будущему", его произведения расширяют рамки языка и сознания.

Мой язык и сознание очень сильно и упорно сопротивлялись насильственному расширению.

I can’t judge the language. I mean, I can, but don’t want to. The abstract tries to convince us that

Written in “an effort for the future” his works expand the boundaries of language and consciousness.

My own language and consciousness strongly and stubbornly resisted the forced expansion.

В школе нас наверняка пичкали им, дабы мы вкусили этот сладчайше извращенный язык («он сделал удар в его лицо» и прочее) и остроту того времени. Но от некоторых фраз уже было не отделаться простым фейспалмом, от них начинало мутить. […] А еще после «Котлована» мне до жути захотелось почитать Айн Рэнд.

At school, we were probably stuffed with it so that we could taste this deliciously perverted language (“he made a blow into his face” and so on) and the sharp feeling of the time. But some of the phrases were impossible to get rid of with a simple facepalm, they made me sick. […] And after “The Foundation Pit’ I really wanted to read Ayn Rand.

It seems these Russian speakers found the language to be unusual too.


Platonov's books are not easy for Russian readers also. An ideal reader should know well the daily routine of Soviet people before WWII and understands the Stalin's propaganda slogans and stereotypes. Platonov described a life in very harsh, surrealistic and unhuman conditions. His writing style includes the unexpected contrasting, satirical and poetic remarks, fantastic and surrealistic elements. His characters don't understand their conditions and accept their hopeless and zombie-like life as a natural thing. The Foundation Pit may be the best Platonov's book demonstrating that there were no significant differences between between GULAG prisoners and average Soviet people. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Platonov: According to archival evidence (OGPU informer's report, 11 July 1931), Stalin read For Future Use carefully after its publication, adding marginal comments about the author ("fool, idiot, scoundrel") and his literary style ("this isn't Russian but some incomprehensible nonsense") to his copy of the magazine. In a note to the publishers, the Krasnaya nov monthly, Stalin described Platonov as "an agent of our enemies" and suggested in a postscript that the author and other "numbskulls" (i.e. the editors) should be punished in such a way that the punishment served them "for future use".


See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Platonov: The style and subject matter One of the most striking distinguishing features of Platonov's work is the original language, which has no analogues in world literature. It is often called "primitive", "ungainly", "homemade".

Platonov actively uses the technique of ostraneny, his prose is replete with lexical and grammatical "errors" characteristic of children's speech.

Yuri Levin highlights Platonov's characteristic techniques:

syntactically incorrect constructions, such as verb+place circumstance. «Think on head», «answered... from his dry mouth», «recognized the desire to live into this fenced-off distance». redundancy, pleonasm. «Voschev... opened the door to space», «his body was thin inside the clothes». extremely generalized vocabulary. "Nature", "place", "space" instead of specific landscape descriptions. «Prushevsky looked around the empty area of the nearest nature», «an old tree grew... in bright weather». active use of subordinate clauses about the cause (“Nastya ... hovered around the rushing men, because she wanted to”), as well as subordinate clauses about purpose (“It's time to eat for the day's work”). Moreover, they are often superfluous or logically unmotivated. active use of typical Soviet bureaucracies, often in an ironic way (“confiscate her affection”), but rarely.[28] According to the researcher Levin, with the help of these turns, Platonov forms a "panteleological" space of the text, where "everything is connected with everything", and all events unfold among a single "nature".[29]

In the works of Andrey Platonov, form and content form a single, indissoluble whole, that is, the very language of Platonov's works is their content.

  • 2
    You have posted this as a second answer. Did you intend this to be a different answer? How does it differ from your first? Or did you intend to modify your first answer? In which case it would be better to edit it to add this new information.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:24

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