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Golden Calf Paperback – Dec 15 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (Dec 15 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824078
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.1 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #402,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A hilarious blend of absurdist, futurist, and surrealist sensibilities, this new (and only complete) translation . . . is a finely translated edition of a triumphant literary experiment." --Publishers Weekly, 10/26/2009 (STARRED review)

About the Author

Along with his writing partner, Evgeny Petrov, Ilf wrote two of the most revered Russian novels of all time: The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. He died in 1937 after contracting tuberculosis while in the U.S. working on Little Golden America.

Along with his writing partner, Evgeny Petrov, Ilf wrote two of the most revered Russian novels of all time: The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. Their collaboration ended when Ilf passed away while researching the book that would eventually become Little Golden America.

Konstantin Gurevich is a graduate of Moscow State University and the University of Texas at Austin. He translates with his wife, Helen Anderson. Both are librarians at the University of Rochester.

Helen Anderson studied Russian language and literature at McGill University in Montréal. She translates with her husband, Konstantin Gurevich. Both are librarians at the University of Rochester.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The OSTAP Overview Dec 5 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well ... here's the thing. For reasons I won't go into here, I've had occasion to own and read ALL the English translations extant of both THE TWELVE CHAIRS and its sortakinda "sequel" THE (LITTLE) GOLDEN CALF. (The discrepancy in the title of the second is due to a peculiarity of Russian, which lets you make a diminution of calf without quite saying little calf; it's a construction, not an adjective, and there's no English equivalent. But it's similar to Yiddish, in which the name David, which translates as Duvid, can be turned into Duvidl [DOO-vid-ul] both as an endearment or as a nickname for a youngster.)

Anyway, having read them all, carefully, comparatively and cover-to-cover, I can say this with absolute assurance: no matter which you read, if you're reading solely for pleasure, you'll get an accurate representation of the book. To be sure, each iteration carries its translator's/translators' imprimatur, but all are similar of tone and content (notwithstanding that some of the early translations are not quite as complete, which matters more academically than aesthetically). None is perfect, but none shortchanges you.

In making consumer comparisons, one should probably dispense with the first version of THE TWELVE CHAIRS (published as DIAMONDS TO SIT ON) by Elizabeth Hill and Doris Mudie, and the first of THE LITTLE GOLDEN CALF (under that title) by Charles Malamuth, both from the 1930s, long out of print and likely never to be reissued. Which leaves John C. Richardson's versions of both THE TWELVE CHAIRS (still in print and available as a free download at one of the open library sites, having apparently slipped into the public domain) and THE GOLDEN CALF (under that title), which is out of print but "gettable" via antiquarian sites, in paperback and (sometimes expensively) in an omnibus edition with CHAIRS, called THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF OSTAP BENDER. And of course the new translations: THE GOLDEN CALF by Konstantin Gurevich & Helen Anderson, THE LITTLE GOLDEN CALF by Anne O. Fisher, and Ms. Fisher's even newer version of THE TWELVE CHAIRS.

For the smoothness of the read, and the best delivery of natural-sounding, idiomatic English, Richardson is a little subdued (perhaps because he's British, and too because his work reflects his era, the 1960s) but sturdy, dependable and above all entertaining. Reading either book -- again, if pleasure or expanding your world literature horizon is the goal -- you can't go wrong.

However, his is not the liveliest, most energetic job of prose and dialogue; that honor goes to Gurevich-Anderson's THE GOLDEN CALF (2009). But comparing their version to others, it would seem less accurate to the letter of the text than the spirit of the text (but not so interpretive that it distorts). There's a conscious effort here to eschew all vestiges of archaicism and make the prose sound not updated but contemporary.

Anne Fisher's versions of THE TWELVE CHAIRS (2011) and THE LITTLE GOLDEN CALF (2009) would seem to be the most academically accurate, but the trade-off is that they're not consistently *as* entertaining, and sometimes sacrifice liveliness on the altar of literalness. But the entirely worthwhile trade-off, to those for whom such is important -- and it was for me -- is that her books trump the others easily for scholarship. Introductory essays, appendices of detailed footnotes, in CALF an extra appendix flagging some of the Ilf & Petrov phrases that entered everyday Russian speech, are rich and valuable sources of information and provide the widest possible context for a Western world reader.

Don't be sucked in by any of the "translation smackdowns" you may find online or at Amazon regarding these titles. (i.e. while it's true that Ilf's daughter, Alexandra, authorized the Gurevich-Anderson translation of CALF, she nonetheless wrote her foreword for the Anne Fisher translation; and another for Fisher's CHAIRS.) No version is a bad choice. But knowing what each version has to offer should help you decide on the one(s) that you'll find most gratifying.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Russian Classic Given New Life Feb. 22 2010
By G. Dawson - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Camels, Trains and Automobiles Make for a Fun Trip Feb. 12 2010
By William Capodanno - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recently read an article in the NYT about an organization called Open Letter Books whose aim is to bring previously untranslated foreign books into English. Every year, they'll translate about 10 books from various countries/languages and with a subscription, you can get all these sent to you. "The Golden Calf" is the first book I received after joining Open Letter Books and if this novel is any indication of the quality of the books they are translating, I hope they are around for a while.

"The Golden Calf" is a hysterical "road trip" novel following con artist Ostap Bender across the Soviet Union as he sets his sights on his mark, another con artist Koreiko, who has conned his way to a fortune of over 1 million rubles. Bender enlists a crew of absurb group of other con artists to join him on his quest to "relieve" Koreiko of his fortune. All of this takes place in the early 1930's Soviet Union as the country is undergoing the New Economic Plan, the mass collectivization sweeping across the country.

This send-up of Soviet society moves at a brisk pace as Bender and his cronies ineptly set their sits on Koreiko. As the chase unfolds, we find ourselves laughing at the comedy that the authors portray about the 1930s USSR through the eyes of Bender. However, without spoiling any of the plot, the book never hits a low point, even when you expect the story is nearly over. The last couple chapters surprisingly keep the satire going and make this a book not to be missed. Last (certainly not to be minimized) is the wonderful translation of this book. Unlike poorly translated books, great translations make you forget the book was ever written in another language --- losing none of the charm of the native language while flowing effortlessly off the pages. Helen Anderson allows the characters and place of 1930s USSR come to life in a delightful, comical and charming way.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A favorite among Russians and Ukranians June 6 2013
By Burleigh Grimes - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
after spending a weekend in Odessa, our translator was shocked SHOCKED that I did not know who Ostap Bender was, and had never read the 12 Chairs OR the Golden Calf. Since then, I've spoken to Russians and Ukrainians from ages 20 - 70 who all agreed that it was a shame I hadn't met this charming fellow. This is a zany, madcap romp, truly, in the style of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World, with a Soviet twist. Мои друзья были правы. My friends were right-- a shame to miss this one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Comedic Caper Aug. 6 2010
By M. Zveris - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Golden Calf is one of those books you can't leave out of your library but you aren't sure where it fits in. This novel is both comedic and at times tragic, it is touching, and it is confusing at times. The authors and the translator have done a fabulous job of bringing together a story that could quickly get out of hand. The book centers on con artists, and the secretly rich members of Soviet society. It is full of smaller pieces that can be read as short stories detailing some of their exploits, and while they may seem to not tie in to the larger work they do indeed at the end all come together into something wonderful.

The descriptions in this book are both satirical and deep; there are hundreds of tiny details put in by the authors about the appearances of characters and places. These are masterfully done, and never weigh down the tone of the novel itself - just when things seem like they might drag the story takes off just as quickly as the automobiles in it. There are many humorous little moments, from interactions between the characters to conversations "overheard" by them and the situations they end up in.

The different dreams and ambitions of the members of this sordid little plot range from grandiose to mundane, and nothing ever ends up feeling cookie-cutter in this novel. It is well worth a read, and even if (when coming from a Western perspective) you feel a little confused at times in regard to the setting the authors had the vision to make sure the Golden Calf brings you into the world of the USSR.