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The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf

The Golden Calf (1931)

by Ilya Ilf, Evgeny Petrov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 5 of 5
Even funnier than Twelve Chairs, I think. A few special favorite moments:

- Lokhankin's hunger strike and his wife Barbara's response ("Eat, you nasty man! Eat, you slave-master!")

- All Bender's takedowns of Panikovsky

- Panikovsky pretending to be a blind man (Homer, Milton, and Panikovsky...oh yeah.)

- chapter titles: Gas Is Yours, Ideas Ours
- Bureau for the Collection of Horns and Hoofs. Vice President for Hoofs. ...This is hysterical.

Basically, there were quite a few lols.

You know, I really wish that Bender had succeeded in the end, though I get that it couldn't happen. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
More adventures with Ostap Bender, the protagonist of The Twelve Chairs and one of the great characters in Russian literature, resurrected here in The Golden Calf.

There is a lightness to this novel as it rollicks through Bender’s adventures, while at the same time satirizing the Soviet Union, religion, and stupidity in all forms. “I have developed very serious differences with the Soviet regime. The regime wants to build socialism, and I don’t,” says Ostap early on in the novel, to explain why he wants to get his hands on enough money to flee to Brazil. The con man comes to know of another con man who has amassed a hidden fortune while living the quiet and humble life of a clerk, and along with his cohorts, sets out to fleece him.

Ilf & Petrov write with intelligence, zaniness, and fun, particularly for their time. I loved the manager who has rubber stamps made to speed up how quickly he gets through notes that come across his desk, which start from things like “No objection” and “Make it happen”, progress to “Are they completely crazy?” and “Give me a break”, and finally a very large stamp with an all-purpose form letter. Something for everyone here.

On aspirations:
“Parallel to the big world inhabited by big people and big things, there’s a small world with small people and small things. In the big world, they invented the diesel engine, wrote the novel Dead Souls, built the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, and flew around the globe. In the small world, they invented the blowout noisemaker, wrote the song Little Bricks, and built Soviet Ambassador-style pants. People in the big world aspire to improve the lives of all humanity. The small world is far from such high-mindedness. Its inhabitants have only one desire – to get by without going hungry.”

On communism:
“’The Soviet regime took everything from me,’ thought the former school district superintendent, ‘rank, medals, respect, bank account. It even took over my thoughts. But there’s one area that’s beyond the Bolshevik’s reach: the dreams given to man by God. Night will bring me peace. In my dreams, I will see something that I’d like to see.’
The very next night, God gave Fyodor Nikitich a terrible dream. He dreamt that he was sitting in an office corridor that was lit by a small kerosene lamp. He sat there with the knowledge that, at any moment, he was to be removed from the board. Suddenly a steel door opened, and his fellow office workers ran out shouting: ‘Khvorobyov needs to carry more weight!’ He wanted to run but couldn’t.
Fyodor Nikitich woke up in the middle of the night. He said a prayer to God, pointing out to Him that an unfortunate error had been made, and that the dream intended for an important person, maybe even a party member, had arrived at the wrong address. He, Khvorobyov, would like to see the Tsar’s ceremonial exit from the Cathedral of the Assumption, for starters.”

“’In Soviet Russia, the only place where a normal person can live is an insane asylum,’ he said, draping himself in a blanket. ‘Everything else is super-bedlam. I cannot live with the Bolsheviks, no sir! I’d rather live here, among common lunatics. At least they aren’t building socialism. Plus, here they feed you, while out there, in bedlam, you need to work. And I have no interest of working for their socialism. Finally, I have my personal freedom here. Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech…’”

On laziness in marriage:
“Lokhankin brushed the crumbs off his beard, threw his wife a cautious, evasive glance, and quieted down on his couch. He really didn’t want to part with Barbara. Despite numerous shortcomings, Barbara had two very important merits: a large white bosom and a steady job. Basilius had never had a job. A job would have interfered with his reflections on the role of the Russian intelligentsia, the social group of which he considered himself a member. As a result, Lokhankin’s prolonged ruminations boiled down to pleasant and familiar themes: ‘Basilius Lokhankin and His Significance,’ ‘Lokhankin and the Tragedy of Russian Liberalism,’ ‘Lokhankin and His Role in the Russian Revolution.’”

On religion:
“The grand strategist didn’t care for Catholic priests. He held an equally negative opinion of rabbis, Dalai Lamas, Orthodox clergy, muezzins, shamans, and other purveyors of religion.
‘I’m into deception and blackmail myself,’ he said. ‘Right now, for example, I’m trying to extract a large amount of money from a certain intransigent individual. But I don’t accompany my questionable activities with choral singing, or the roar of the pipe organ, or silly incantations in Latin or Old Church Slavonic. I generally prefer to operate without incense or astral bells.’” ( )
3 vote gbill | Oct 15, 2013 |
The Golden Calf, a classic Russian novel now available in a new English translation published by Open Letter Books, is an exuberant road trip story, a financial thriller, an examination of the criminal underworld, and a social commentary, all rolled into one package. The story spans the era of Lenin’s New Economic Policy, under which private enterprises coexisted with state entities, to the time of Stalin’s rigid program of collectivization. Set against this backdrop of significant social upheaval, Ostap Bender, facetiously nicknamed the Grand Strategist, devises a plan to swindle an “underground millionaire,” named Koreiko, out of a million rubbles. Bender, along with a colorful band of fellow thieves, tracks Koreiko through multiple cities via planes, trains, and automobiles (though Bender’s attempt to board an airplane ultimately fails). In the meantime, Koreiko, who disguises himself as a lowly clerk to avoid detection, hoards his past earnings from dubious deals while “saving himself for capitalism.”

In a brief note from the authors preceding the novel, Ilf and Petrov resolve “to make the novel as funny as possible,” and they have succeeded. Some of the humor is playfully absurd: “It was that time, between five and six in the morning, when … the city is light, clean, and quiet, like a state bank. At moments like this, one feels like crying and wants to believe that yogurt is indeed tastier and healthier than vodka.” Other passages carry more subversive meanings: “The cathedral was enormous. Thorny and sharp, it ripped into the sky like a fish bone. It stuck in your throat.” Throughout, The Golden Calf wears its political and social messages lightly, never forgetting that a good story is more entertaining (and more likely to escape censorship) than a political statement.

Some of The Golden Calf’s masterfully constructed set pieces have little connection to the novel’s primary action, and, when necessary to keep momentum high, Ilf and Petrov have no qualms about glossing over the finer details holding the plot together. While resulting in a somewhat chaotic narrative, this unapologetic disregard for relevance and order contributes to The Golden Calf’s undeniable charm. Wouldn’t you rather read about the escape of one of Bender’s inept colleagues from the clutches of two spell-casting priests than about how Bender managed to collect the necessary details about Koreiko’s past exploits? I certainly would. For a hilarious and utterly unique reading experience, pick up a copy of The Golden Calf. Then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Feb 22, 2010 |
One of the true classics of Russian literature. Few works have "donated" so many trenchant phrases and words to the Russian language. If you want to understand modern Russia, you need to read this book. End of story. ( )
  russianlife | Nov 5, 2009 |
I'm reading this online at : http://idlewords.com/telenok/ there are only 4 chapters translated so far, but it's fun and engaging. If you like it, you can donate a few dollars to help the translators work. ( )
  catapogo | Feb 8, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ilya Ilfprimary authorall editionscalculated
Petrov, Evgenymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, HelenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fisher, Anne O.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gurevich, KonstantinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reschke, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stapert, FransTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiarda, DirkIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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During the New Economic Plan of the early 1920s, con man Ostap Bender and his merry band of mischief-makers romp across the "wild west" of the early Soviet Union. Their mark is Alexander Koreiko, another shady figure who has become an underground millionaire.… (more)

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