Andrei Platonov (1899-1951, real last name Klimentov) is a writer about whom you will often see the words, “the best writer you’ve never read.” At least that’s true in the English-speaking world. Most of Platonov’s works – he wrote novels, stories, poetry and plays – were buried in the noise of their time. The vast majority of them have come back to us in recent decades. He was already in the process of being rediscovered in the late Soviet period, but it was after the fall of the wall that he came to us more or less in full light and full flight. The plaque commemorating the fact that he lived at 25 Tverskoi Boulevard (not to be confused with Tverskaya Streeet) from 1931 until his death in 1951 is the work of sculptor Fedot Suchkov. According to Suchkov’s memoirs the bas relief that he created for the plaque originated in a bust he had made for the Platonov family and which was kept in the family home. Heinrich Boll, the great German writer and an admirer of Platonov, purchased a copy of the bas relief for his own personal collection. The plaque hangs not far from another honoring the fact that the poet Osip Mandelshtam also lived at this address for a brief period in the early 1930s. This is the same home in which the 19th-century publicist Alexander Herzen was born, and where the Gorky Literary Institute is located, all of which I have written about previously in this space.
Platonov’s sister-in-law Valentina Troshkina would later recall: “Andrei worked here a lot, he would take his writings to publishers, but only rarely could he publish under a pseudonym. Friends would sometimes gather on Tverskoi. Guests included [Mikhail] Sholokhov, [Alexander] Fadeev, Georges Chernyavshchuk, a marvelous person, although people said various things about him.” Troshkina’s comments, like those of Suchkov, are published in memoirs published on Platnov.narod, a fan-maintained website for the writer.
Troshkina tells another story I had never heard: When the Germans approached Moscow during World War II many Muscovites were evacuated, Platonov among them. According to Troshkina, he left almost his entire archive of unpublished writings with Troshkina’s husband Pyotr for safekeeping. Platonov took only one thing with him – a piece he called Journey from Leningrad to Moscow, based in spirit, at least, on the great Journey from Petersburg to Moscow by Alexander Radishchev (about whom I have written in this blog). The work apparently meant so much to Platonov that he actually tied the manuscript to his arm when he slept in the train, but somewhere, at some point, the string holding the valuable work of literary art either slipped from the author’s arm or was clipped by a thief who surely had no idea what he or she was stealing. Thus disappeared a potentially major work by Platonov, one he worked on for eight years, mostly at the home on Tverskoi Boulevard.
It is impossible to imagine Soviet literature now without Platonov somewhere in the center of it. His strong, unique, innovative language conjures up a whole era of Russian/Soviet history. His unblinking pictures of the difficult human condition, along with his unbending humanist convictions, make for literature of genuine power and impact.