History of Literature

Russian literature


Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov

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Ilya Ilf (Ilya Arnoldovich Faynzilberg (Russian: Илья Арнольдович Файнзильберг, Ukrainian: Ієхієл-Лейб Арно́льдович Файнзільберг; 1897–1937) and Evgeny or Yevgeni Petrov (Yevgeniy Petrovich Kataev or Katayev (Russian: Евгений Петрович Катаев, Ukrainian: Євген Петрович Катаєв; 1903–1942) were two Soviet prose authors of the 1920s and 1930s. They did much of their writing together, and are almost always referred to as "Ilf and Petrov". They became extremely popular for their two satirical novels: The Twelve Chairs and its sequel, The Little Golden Calf. The two texts are connected by their main character, Ostap Bender, a con man in pursuit of elusive riches.

Both books follow exploits of Bender and his associates looking for treasure amidst the contemporary Soviet reality. They were written and are set in the relatively liberal era in Soviet history, the New Economic Policy of the 1920s. The main characters generally avoid contact with the apparently lax law enforcement. Their position outside the organized, goal-driven, productive Soviet society is emphasized. It also gives the authors a convenient platform from which to look at this society and to make fun of its less attractive and less Socialist aspects. These are among the most widely read and quoted books in Russian culture. The Twelve Chairs was adapted for popular films both in the USSR and in the U.S. (by Mel Brooks in the latter).

The two writers also traveled across the Depression-era USA. Ilf took many pictures throughout the journey, and the authors produced a photo essay entitled "American Photographs," published in Ogonyok magazine. Shortly after that they published the book Одноэтажная Америка; literally: "One-storeyed America", translated as Little Golden America (an allusion to The Little Golden Calf). The first edition of the book did not include Ilf's photographs. Both the photo essay and the book document their adventures with their characteristic humor and playfulness. Notably, Ilf and Petrov were not afraid to praise many aspects of the American lifestyle in these works. The title comes from the following description.

America is primarily a one-and two-story country. The majority of the American population lives in small towns of three thousand, maybe five, nine, or fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Ilf died of tuberculosis shortly after the trip to America; Petrov died in a plane crash in 1942 while he was covering the Eastern Front.



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