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The 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: 14.1 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #271,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"On the heels of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall comes a new translation of one of the most beloved and quotable Russian classics—The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov. This is the first version based on the complete and uncensored original, which was first serialized in 1931, and, unlike the two very truncated incarnations that came before, finally illuminates in full comedic and insightful glory the work of the writing duo from Odessa (pen names for Ilya Faynzilberg and Evgeny Kataev), whose iconic status in Russian literature is akin to that of Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the U.S."–Kseniya Melnik, The Brooklyn Rail

"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

From the Inside Flap

Ostap Bender, the "grand strategist," is a con man on the make in the Soviet Union during the New Economic Policy (NEP) period. He's obsessed with getting one last big scorea few hundred thousand will doand heading for Rio de Janeiro, where there are "a million and a half people, all of them wearing white pants, without exception."

When Bender hears the story of Alexandr Koreiko, an "undercover millionaire"no Soviet citizen was allowed to openly hoard so much capitalthe chase is on. Koreiko has made his millions by taking advantage of the wide-spread corruption and utter chaos of the NEP, all while serving quietly as an accountant at a government office and living on 46 rubles a month. He's just waiting for the Soviet regime to collapse so he can make use of his stash, which he keeps hidden away in a suitcase.

Teaming up with two petty criminals and a hopelessly nave driver, Bender leads his merry band of mischief makers on a raucously hilarious jaunt across the "wild west" of the early Soviet Union. One of the true classics of Russian literature, this new translation of The Golden Calfthe first complete translation of the novelrestores the absurd, manic energy of the original and reaffirms the judgment of the Soviet censors, who said: "You have a very nice hero, Ostap Bender. But really, he's just a son of a bitch."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars 11 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary treasure. Feb. 13 2016
By jeremiah - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A literary treasure.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.