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Book Title: Двенадцать стульев|
The author of the book: Ilya Ilf
Date of issue: 2005
ISBN 13: 9785170058709
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 374 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.8
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Good fun. It feels a bit dated, but that may be due to me being a Romanian and reading a 1960 English translation of a 1927 Russian text, and losing some of the original flavor along the way. Still, it is easy to see why Twelve Chairs is considered a classic, both inside and outside the Soviet space. At the first glance, it is an extremely sharp satire of the times in which the talented duo from Odessa were both witnesses and actors, as seen in the chapters about the editor of a Moscow newspaper and about writing the epic poem The Gavriliad ) about a stalwart Russian [insert occupation here]. At the second glance, the plot and the characters gain a timeless quality that transcends cultural borders to speak about greed, corruption, selfishness, vanity, envy, fear ... Proof of this universal appeal can be glimpsed in the many adaptations of the story - from Cehia or Cuba, to England and the United States. Some particular scenes (the 1st of May launching of a new tram line in Stargorod, the meetings of the secret Alliance of The Sword and Ploughshare) have a strong resemblance to more recent cinema works by Milos Forman ( The Firemen's Ball ) or Emir Kusturica ( Underground ; Black Cat, White Cat ) . The analogy is not only in the keen eye for the comical situation and the slightly grotesque cast, but also in the more tender touch, as of a stern parent who might criticize his child, but keeps loving him deeply despite his many shortcomings. The satire of Ilf and Petrov is often harsh, but never mean spirited or ugly. A particular scene from the book comes to mind - of Ilf and Petrov getting lyrical about a spring Sunday in Moscow and young people going to the flea market to purchase a mattress - a symbol of status in an impoverished neighborhood, but also of love and hope for the future.
The plot i think it is known : the ailing mother-in-law of the main actor (Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a.k.a. Pussy) confesses on her death bed that she has hidden a treasure in jewelry inside one walnut chair - one of twelve that were later appropriated by the communist authorities. This McGuffin sets up a wild treasure hunt across the Soviet Union, from Stargorod to Moscow, from Georgia to Crimeea. Vorobyaninov is ill equipped to deal with the hardships of the quest, and soon falls under the influence of a "smooth operator" - Ostap Bender - a young rake familiar with all the tricks and lies of a life of crime. Soon, Bender will steal all the best scenes in the book, setting up one shady deal after another, lying his way into marriage only to elope the next day, claiming to be a chess Grandmeister, a painter, a fire inspector, a white revolutionary, a tourist guide, and on and on - one impersonation after another. A more crooked alter-ego to the typical Communist hero promoted by the party propaganda machine is hard to imagine, yet he is surprisingly credible in the context of the period (a more liberal pre-Stalinist society, with encouragement of free enterprise and private initiative) . It is hard not to cheer for Ostap, when he is gaming the system, always betting on the stupidity and self-interest of his victims.
The supporting cast is as memorable as Ostap or Vorobyaninov, even if they have a lesser role to play. I recognize in them archetypes of people I'm still meeting today:
- Father Fyodor: the renegade priest who sells his soul for a piece of the treasure
- Victor Polesov, the mechanic intellectual : the know-it-all busybody, with a firm opinion about everything under the sun, morbidly curious about everybody elses business and slovenly about his own work.
- Ellochka Shukin (The Canibal) : the perky man-teaser with high society airs, copying the fashions from foreign magazines and driving her husband crazy with her social climber ambitions.
- Elena Stanislavovna - former call girl / mistress and now neighbourhood psychic seeing the future in cards or coffee cups.
- the Widow Gritsatsuyev - the gullible middle aged lady chasing after the treacherous Ostap
- Absalom Vladimirovich Iznurenkov - the scatterbrained writer of jokes and heroic poetry
- Liza Kalachov - the pretty student who craves a bit of salami while her boyfriend sings praises to the healthier (and cheaper) vegetarian lifestyle
- assorted undertakers, engineers, accountants, building administrators, government functionaries, actors, students, reporters - each with his or her moment in the limelight.
While there are some slapstick moments in the book, most of the humor is situational or in conversations. My favorite parts are the authors riffs on general subjects, when they really let loose with their wit. Here's a short teaser to end my review:
Statistics know everything.
It has been calculated with precision how much ploughland there is in the USSR, with subdivision into black earth, loam and loess. All citizens of both sexes have been recorded in those neat, thick registers – so familiar to Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov – the registry office ledgers. It is known how much of a certain food is consumed yearly by the average citizen in the Republic. It is known how much vodka is imbibed as an average by this average citizen, with a rough indication of the titbits consumed with it. It is known how many hunters, ballerinas, revolving lathes, dogs of all breeds, bicycles, monuments, girls, lighthouses and sewing machines there are in the country.
How much life, full of fervour, emotion and thought, there is in those statistical tables!
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Read information about the authorIlya Ilf, pseudonym of Iehiel-Leyb (Ilya) Arnoldovich Faynzilberg was a popular Soviet journalist and writer of Jewish origin who usually worked in collaboration with Yevgeni Petrov during the 1920s and 1930s. Their duo was known simply as Ilf and Petrov. Together they published two popular comedy novels The Twelve Chairs (1928) and The Little Golden Calf (1931), as well as a satirical book One-storied America (often translated as Little Golden America) that documented their journey through the United States between 1935 and 1936.
lf and Petrov became extremely popular for their two satirical novels: The Twelve Chairs and its sequel, The Little Golden Calf. The two texts are connected by their main character, Ostap Bender, a con man in pursuit of elusive riches. Both books follow exploits of Bender and his associates looking for treasure amidst the contemporary Soviet reality. They were written and are set in the relatively liberal era in Soviet history, the New Economic Policy of the 1920s. The main characters generally avoid contact with the apparently lax law enforcement. Their position outside the organized, goal-driven, productive Soviet society is emphasized. It also gives the authors a convenient platform from which to look at this society and to make fun of its less attractive and less Socialist aspects. These are among the most widely read and quoted books in Russian culture. The Twelve Chairs was adapted for ca. twenty movies, in the USSR (by Leonid Gaidai and by Mark Zakharov), in the US (in particular by Mel Brooks), and in other countries.
The two writers also traveled across the Great Depression-era United States. Ilf took many pictures throughout the journey, and the authors produced a photo essay entitled "American Photographs", published in Ogonyok magazine. Shortly after that they published the book Одноэтажная Америка (literally: "One-storied America"), translated as Little Golden America (an allusion to The Little Golden Calf). The first edition of the book did not include Ilf's photographs. Both the photo essay and the book document their adventures with their characteristic humor and playfulness. Notably, Ilf and Petrov were not afraid to praise many aspects of the American lifestyle in these works. The title comes from the following description.
America is primarily a one-and two-story country. The majority of the American population lives in small towns of three thousand, maybe five, nine, or fifteen thousand inhabitants.
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