The narrator of Vladimir Voinovich's Zhizn’ i neobychainye prikliucheniia soldata Ivana Chonkina: roman-anekdot v piati chastiakh tells us on the first page that the events he is going to describe took place during the period from late May to early June 1941. For the knowledgeable reader, this information means something terrible is about to happen: On 22 June Adolf Hitler's forces invaded the Soviet Union, starting what was to be one of the most devastating wars in human history. Yet Voinovich's novel is hilariously funny. How does Voinovich do it?
To answer this question adequately, a comprehensive theory of humor would have to be applied to both Chonkin and its sequel, Pretendent na prestol: novye prikliucheniia soldata Ivana Chonkina. I will not attempt such a large task here, but I can undertake a more modest enterprise. I believe it is possible to explain why certain crucial passages in Voinovich's narratipn about the onset of the Great Fatherland War can actually provoke laughter. These passages concern the Father of Peoples himself, the Soviet dictator, Stalin.