The Golden Calf
REVIEW by Willard Manus
Rereading THE GOLDEN CALF by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov was like running into an old girl friend and falling in love all over again.
heard about the book, a comic novel about a Russian con man named Ostap
Bender and his raffish band of disciples, back in the 1950s when I was
living in Greenwich Village near a small used bookstore owned by a man
named Bernard Guerdon. It turned out that Bernard had translated one of
the first English-language versions of THE GOLDEN CALF. I bought a copy
from him and, on first reading, understood immediately why he had recommended
it so fulsomely. The book's humor and irreverence touched me in a deeply
Basically, THE GOLDEN CALF is an attack on the collectivist, authoritarian mentality of the communist state. Ostap is a roguish individualist who finds the building of socialism boring. His goal is to escape to Rio de Janeiro and lie on a beach for the rest of his life, sipping tall drinks and dancing the samba with near-naked women. To do it, he must find an infamous millionaire named Alexander Koreiko and bilk him out of every ruble he owns. Aiding him in this crusade are a cross-section of equally greedy, disaffected hustlers and petty criminals.
The picaresque adventures of Bender & Co. are hilariously portrayed by Ilf & Petrov, whose earlier novel, The Twelve Chairs, was made into a mediocre movie by Mel Brooks. The authors also collaborated on Little Golden America, which deals with their comic misadventures in the USA. Unfortunately, Ilf contracted TB during the trip and died soon after. I used to own a copy of that book, but lost it as well. Perhaps Open Letter will fill that aching hole in my life. (Openletterbooks.org)