The Golden Calf Paperback – Dec 15 2009
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"Ilf and Petrov's picaresque is packed with intricacies that resist summary. The authors exploit every character and complication to its fullest humor, in a wild tale driven in large part by Bender's rapid-fire language."By Nicole Rudick, Los Angeles Times
"The Golden Calf was translated into English shortly after its first serialisation in 1931, and then again in the early sixties. This new translation is the first English version to have gone to print unexpurgated. Translators Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson have delivered a text full of glib energies and stylistic verve. While choosing to forego some of the language-based humour in the original text, Anderson and Gurevich show equal sensitivity to the novel’s satirical mirroring of a new model society’s hubris, and to its evocative vignettes of Socialist Russia."Nick Terrell, The Ember
"War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Doctor Zhivago weigh so heavily on Russiona literature than many readers don't realize that there are some truly hilarious Russian novels. This classic picturesque is one of them." K.H.Cuminskey, Library Journal
"For students and scholars who studied Russian literature in the three decades of so before the collapse of communism, the works o Ilf and Petrov are remembered fondly not so much for their artistic viability as for their comic relief from the grim and grimy fiction in the early years of Soviet power." Thomas Gaiton Marullo, University of Notre Dame
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
"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.
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.
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.