Four years later, in the fifth famine drove people to cities or to forests – there was a crop failure. Zakhar Pavlovich remained alone in the village. During the long life of his hands, not a single product, from a frying pan to an alarm clock, was missing, but Zakhar Pavlovich himself had nothing: neither family nor dwelling. One night, when Zakhar Pavlovich was listening to the sound of the long-awaited rain, he could see the distant whistle of the locomotive. In the morning he gathered and went into the city. Work in the locomotive depot opened for him a new skilful world – such a long-loved, as if always familiar, and he decided to stay forever in it.
The Dvanovs had sixteen children, seven survived. The eighth was adopted by Sasha, the son of a fisherman. His father drowned out of interest: he wanted to know what happens after death. Sasha is the same age as one of the children of Dvanov, Proshki. When the twins were born in a hungry year, Prokhor Abramovich Dvanov sewed Sasha a bag for alms and led him out of the outskirts. “We are all boors and rascals!” Prokhor Abramovich correctly defined himself, returning to his wife and his own children. Sasha went to the cemetery to say goodbye to his father. He decided, as soon as he collected a full bag of bread, to dig his dugout next to his father’s grave and live there, since he does not have a home.
Zakhar Pavlovich asks Proson Danov for a ruble to find Sasha and takes him to his sons. Zakhar Pavlovich loves Sasha with all the devotion of old age, with all the feeling of unconscious, unclear hopes. Sasha works as a pupil at the depot to become a locksmith. In the evenings, he reads a lot, and after reading, writing, because he does not want to leave the world in his seventeen years inadvertently. However, he feels inside his body emptiness, where, without delay, life enters and leaves, like a distant hum, in which it is impossible to make out the words of the song. Zakhar Pavlovich, watching his son, advises: “Do not suffer, Sasha, – you are already so weak…”
The war begins, then the revolution. On one October night, after hearing the shooting in the city, Zakhar Pavlovich said to Sasha: “Fools take power there, – maybe, at least, life will grow wiser”. In the morning they go to the city and search for the most serious party to immediately enroll in it. All parties are placed in one official house, and Zakhar Pavlovich
walks around the offices, choosing the party according to his reason. At the end of the corridor, only one man is sitting at the back door – the rest are not in power. “Soon the end will come?” Zakhar Pavlovich asks the man. “Socialism, or what? In a year. Today, only institutions we occupy.” “Then write us,” Zakhar Pavlovich agrees. At home, the father explains his son’s understanding of Bolshevism: “The Bolshevik must have an empty heart so that everything can fit…”
Six months later, Alexander arrives at the opened railway courses, and then goes to the Polytechnic. But soon the doctrine of Alexander Danov ceases, and for a long time. The party sends him to the front of the Civil War – to the steppe town of Novokhopersk. Zakhar Pavlovich is sitting all day with his son at the station, waiting for a passing train. They already talked about everything except love. When Sasha leaves, Zakhar Pavlovich comes back home and reads algebra by the wayside, without understanding anything, but gradually finding a consolation.
In Novokhopersk, Dvanov is accustomed to a steppe warring revolution. Soon a letter comes from the province with an order for his return. On the way, instead of the escaped driver, he drives the locomotive – and on a one-track road the train collides with the counter. Sasha miraculously remains alive.
Having done a great and difficult journey, Dvanov returns home. He immediately falls ill with typhus, turning out of life for eight months. Zakhar Pavlovich, desperate, makes a coffin for his son. But in the summer Sasha is recovering. To them in the evening comes a neighbor, an orphan Sonya. Zakhar Pavlovich splits the coffin into a furnace, gladly thinking that now it’s time to make a coffin and make a baby crib, because Sonya will soon grow up and Sasha and they can have children.
Gubkom sends Sasha in the province – “to seek communism amateur population.” Dvanov goes from one village to another. He falls into the hands of anarchists, who are beaten by a small detachment under the command of Stepan Kopenkin. Kopenkin participates in the revolution for the sake of his love for Rosa Luxemburg. In one village, where Kopenkin and Dvanov come in, they meet Sonya, who here teaches at the children’s school.
Dvanov and Kopenkin, wandering around the province, meet many people, each of whom in his own way represents the construction of a new, still unknown life. Dvanov gets acquainted with Chepurny, chairman of the revolutionary committee of the county town Chevengur. Dvanov likes the word Chevengur, which reminds him of the rousing buzz of an unknown country. Chepurny tells of his city as a place in which the good of life, and the accuracy of the truth, and the grief of existence occur by themselves as necessary. Although Dvanov dreams of returning home and continuing his studies at the Polytechnic, he is fond of Chepurny’s stories about Chevengur’s socialism and decides to go to this city. “Let’s go to your land,” Chepurny tells Kopenkin and Kopenkin. “Let’s look at the facts!”
Chevengur wakes up late; its inhabitants rested from the centuries of oppression and could not rest. The revolution won the Chevengur uyezd dreams and the main profession made a soul. Locking his horse Proletarian Force in the barn, Kopenkin walks along Chevengur, meeting people, pale in appearance and unearthly in the face. He asks Chepurny what these people do in the daytime. Chepurny responds that the human soul is the main profession, and its product is friendship and partnership. Kopenkin suggests that it was not very good in Chevengur, organize a little grief, because communism should be caustic – for good taste. They appoint an extraordinary commission, which compiles lists of bourgeois survivors in the revolution. The Chekists shoot them. “Now our business is dead!” – Cheerful after the shooting Chepurny. “Cry!”
After the massacre of the bourgeoisie, Kopenkin still does not feel communism in Chevengur, and the Chekists are being taken to identify the half-bourgeois to free their lives from them. Half-houses are gathered in a large crowd and driven from the city to the steppe. The proletarians who stayed in Chevengur and arrived in the city at the call of the Communists quickly eat up the food remnants of the bourgeoisie, destroy all the chickens and feed on one plant food in the steppe. Chepurny expects that the final happiness of life will evolve by itself in an uninhabited proletariat, because the happiness of life is a fact and a necessity. One Kopenkin walks around Chevengur without happiness, waiting for Dvanov to come and his assessment of a new life.
In Chevengur comes Dvanov, but does not see the communism outside: probably he disappeared in people. And Dvanov guesses why the Bolsheviks-Chevgugans so desire communism: he is the end of history, the end of time, time goes only in nature, and in man stands the melancholy. Dvanov invented a device that must turn the sunlight into electricity, for which all the frames in Chevengur were taken out of the mirror and collected all the glass. But the device does not work. A tower is also built, on which a fire is lit, so that those wandering in the steppe could come upon it. But no one is in the lighthouse. Comrade Serbov comes from Moscow to check the work of the Chevgugans and notes their uselessness. Chepurny explains this: “So we are not working for good, but for each other.” In his report, Serbinov writes that Chevengur has many happy, but useless things.
In Chevengur, women are brought – for the continuation of life. The young Chevgugans are just warming themselves with them, as with mothers, because the air is already quite cold from the coming autumn.
Serbinov tells Dvanov about his meeting in Moscow with Sofya Alexandrovna, the same Sonia, whom Sasha remembered before Chevengur. Now Sofia Alexandrovna lives in Moscow and works in a factory. Serbinov says that she remembers Sasha as an idea. Serbinov is silent about his love for Sophia Alexandrovna.
A man comes to Chevengur and informs that Cossacks on horseback are moving to the city. The battle begins. Dying Serbinov with thoughts of a distant Sofya Alexandrovna, who kept the trace of his body in him, Chepurny, the rest of the Bolsheviks, perishes. The city is occupied by Cossacks. Dvanov remains in the steppe over the mortally wounded Kopenkin. When Kopenkin dies, Dvanov sits on his horse Proletarian Force and moves away from the city, into the open steppe. He travels a long time and drives through the village in which he was born. The road leads Dvanov to the lake, in the depths of which his father once had rest. Dvanov sees a fishing rod, which he forgot on the beach as a child. He forces the Proletarian Force to enter the water along the chest and, saying goodbye to her, descends from the saddle into the water – in search of the road that once passed the father in the curiosity of death…
Zakhar Pavlovich comes to Chevengur in search of Sasha. None of the people in the city there – just sitting at the brick house Proschka and crying. “If you want, I’ll give you a ruble again – bring me Sasha,” Zakhar Pavlovich asks. “I’ll bring a gift,” Prokofy promises and goes to look for Dvanov.