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The Twelve Chairs [Paperback]

Ilf , Petrov , Maurice Friedberg , John H. C. Richardson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2 1997 European Classics
Ostap Bender is an unemployed con artist living by his wits in postrevolutionary Soviet Russia. He joins forces with Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a former nobleman who has returned to his hometown to find a cache of missing jewels which were hidden in some chairs that have been appropriated by the Soviet authorities. The search for the bejeweled chairs takes these unlikely heroes from the provinces to Moscow to the wilds of Soviet Georgia and the Trans-caucasus mountains; on their quest they encounter a wide variety of characters: from opportunistic Soviet bureaucrats to aging survivors of the prerevolutionary propertied classes, each one more selfish, venal, and ineffective than the one before.

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not re:this translation. July 30 2003
I never read this in English,so I'm not going to comment on the quality of the Northwestern U. translation,but I did read it in Russian. First off,everyone needs to read this book in order to understand Russians better. I re-read it many times in my teenage years simply because if you live in Russia(or any other Eastern European country for that matter),you will be able to understand those countless quotes taken from this masterpiece and incorporated into everyday language. The characters are hysterical in the least, and the story so seemingly simple contains much bigger messages than available to the naked eye.Please,read this book,and if you understand the humour and sadness of it,you'll be well on your way to understanding not just Russian culture but humans in general.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gentlemen of the Jury, things are moving! Dec 3 2001
This is a farcical tale of three men in search of treasure buried in one of 12 identical armchairs. The story is very much a buddy tale of adventures and misadventures as the characters do almost anything to get their hands on the chairs in the Soviet Union of the 1920's. However, the story of the treasure hunt and the Marx Brothers like characters is really only the backdrop to a much deeper purpose, as The Twelve Chairs effectively describes the period of transition from czarist to Soviet rule. In between the tribulations of the heroes are many details of the food that was being served, student accomodations, railway and public construction projects, housing sooperatives and less than honest public servants. It is also very interesting to see how helpless the former upper class - the nobility - had become and how the Soviet Union, at least in its early days, could be exploited by the street smart like Ostap Bender. This is a very funny book that is also informative and is well worth reading. Inevitably, Bulgakov comes to mind as a complementary read; though he is somewhat more direct in his accusations of the regime.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Accidents of fate Nov. 8 2000
It is a long fateful story of how I came to read this book, but I am glad I did. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Some criticize the way the ending was done, but the end is not really the point. It is the ride on the way that is the point. There are so many layers to the story; it is dark, light, political and comedic all at the same time.The authors fill the story with such interesting characters,and weave their fates together in ways that are both ingenious and hilarious. Although some readers like myself may not catch all the underlying political themes,I think there's humour and wit to tickle every part of anybody's brain. From satire to good old slapstick it's all there.(I laughed my head off in a crowded subway car while reading this book!) In many ways the story is quite universal. I think everybody knows an Ostap Bender (one of the main characters.) The commentator to the edition I bought suggests that if more North Americans read this book,they would understand Russians better and realize how much they are stereotyped by Westerners. I do not purport to understand the "enigmatic Russian soul�h however, from my limited experience, I must agree with the commentator; there seems to be a deeply funny and intelligent sense of humour that resides in their hearts and this book really shows it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book ever! March 22 2000
By A Customer
10 stars on a five-stars scale! Perhaps, the best way to describe this masterpiece is to say that I have re-read so many times, that I even don't know how many. You can pick up this book and open it on random pages, you can read the chapters in the backward order (I have done both)- it is still the best of the best! Several generations of Russians have incorporated quatations from "12 Chairs" and "Golden Calf" in their everyday vocabulary - these novels are just that great and popular. If you want to understand "the mysterious Russian soul" of the socialist period - this is perhaps the best way to do so. Oh, and be prepared to constantly laugh so hard that your neighbors will attempt to commit you! It definitely is one of the funniest pieces ever written. Borrow "12 Chairs" and "Golden Calf" books, buy them, steal them - just READ THEM!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Poor translation Jan. 27 2003
I think this book suffers mostly through translation because I've seen the Russian film versions any number of times, and found "The Twelve Chairs" to be utterly hilarious. However, the humor seems lost in the Northwest translation. I think of Mark Twain who lamented that "awful German language" for so badly maligning his "Celebrated Jumping Frog."
I think the Northwestern Univ. Press translations in general are weak. Imre Kertesz has recently taken them to task for the translations of two of his works. It seems that Northwestern's heart is in the right place, trying to capture some of the lesser known works in world literature, but that their selection of translations is rather shoddy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Your life is NOT Complete without this book! June 1 2001
If you talk to ANY Russian in the world, and mention "The Twelve Chairs" from their cultural heritage, or the "Rogei e kapuuta" phony business in the book, ALL Russians will spontaneously and uncontrollably smile. Normally glum Russians are unable to resist a smile at remembering the hilarious antics and insights in "The Twelve Chairs." It is set in the 'crazy time' when Russian society was in upheaval and some men just wanted to make their fortune. What do the Russians know that you are MISSING out on? They get the joke. You should get it, too! This English translation is a MUST read.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I gave it 5 stars... but ?!
I gave it 5 stars , but I have few points to make !
1. Point , why I do like it !
Because it is very funny . They use Russian language in exellent way ! Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2002 by Vlad
5.0 out of 5 stars Soviet Union
This is one of the best and the funniest books ever written in the Soviet Union. Everyone in Russia knows it by heart. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2002 by Boris Zubry
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique
I think that if you asked my American friends, they would tell you that I quote the 12 chairs and the golden calf, like evangelists quote the Bible. Read more
Published on April 23 2002 by Bookslinger
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Genius
I have a friend who hates reading. Does not like to read period. Never finished a book in college. He read this book in three days. Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2000 by P. Goncharov
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential source for understanding Russian culture
I've read the novel together with its sequel, The Golden Calf, in Russian about a dozen times. Now I simply have to get an English copy to share it with my non-Russian speaking... Read more
Published on March 14 2000 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars The *Real* Demise of ILF and PETROV
Through I did, indeed, find a copy of THE GOLDEN CALF, the sequel to THE TWELVE CHAIRS that two of the reader reviews mention (in an omnibus edition containing both... Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2000 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best satire books in Russia
Well, I actually read the original books, in Russian, but depending on how good the translation is, this book can range from excellent to pretty good. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 1999
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