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Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip: The 1935 Travelogue of Two Soviet Writers Hardcover – December, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

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*Starred Review* Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903-42) are the foremost comic novelists of the early Soviet Union. Their The Twelve Chairs (1928) was never suppressed, and in 1970 Mel Brooks made one of his earliest hit movies out of it. Their popularity and doctrinal orthodoxy helped them land an assignment for a series of articles about the real America, illustrated by photos Ilf snapped with a new Leica. Starting out from New York City in late November 1935, they drove to Chicago and then in a southerly circuit through Missouri and the Southwest, up to San Francisco, and back via southern Texas and the Gulf and tidewater coasts to Manhattan after New Year's. They gawked and got bored, picked up hitchhikers, palavered when they could (they were stunned by Americans' incuriosity about them), swallowed a couple of stretchers, and reported everything in 11 loosely thematic pieces whose prose is clean as a whistle and much more ingenuous. Ilf's pictures, reproduced from the best available sources (the negatives have vanished), are reminiscent of the Farm Security Administration photos of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and company, but they're literally artless, just snapshots, really. Impeccably translated, edited, and introduced, and supplemented by artist Aleksandr Rodchenko's prepublication assessment of the original photos and remarks by Ilf's daughter, Aleksandra, this is riveting, fresh-eyed Americana and--how d'you say?--Sovietiana? Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


... a jovial and surprisingly affectionate account... a fascinating snapshot of a nation's history... before the Cold War took firm hold. -- CNN Traveler, Dec. 2006

In 1935, two Soviet writers embarked on a Borat-like tour of the U.S. Relive their strange journey in this delightful book. -- Entertainment Weekly, "The Must List", November 10, 2006

Now translated, this is a riveting piece of Americana. -- Booklist, September 15, 2007

Sorry, Borat, but two sassy Soviet Russians beat you to it. Just published for the first time ever in English, this lost treasure is a cool, srange artifact, but it's also simply a hoot. -- Very Short List, November 9, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 158 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (December 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568986009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568986005
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By T. W. on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Apart from this book's obvious value as a humorous and intelligent look at 1935 America, it is most interesting for showing the many respects in which FDR's New Deal America was already fixed in many of the cultural and political ruts in which we still find the U.S. It can be so revealing because it observes the ordinary and the stupid as keenly as the elite and accomplished. (As a result, the book's occasional smugness will certainly grate on some American readers. The authors describe to us an incurious and unthinking people and are most dated by their certainty that the economic stagnation of 1935 is a loud and final trumpet-blast giving the final verdict on the American kind of capitalism. Maybe it was, in some ways, but in general this is facile in retrospect, especially in comparison with the Soviet trajectory. The point of this positive review is how much truth comes through despite this somewhat churlish--though always witty--attitude.)

The very premise of the book is that knowledge of the nation comes on a road trip, that the rhythm of stopping at gas stations and proceeding along endless highways is somehow definitive of America. Ilf and Petrov ponder the essential sameness of so many American towns. The book begins at once with New Yorkers' and Washingtonians' admonitions to the authors that the "real America" lies somewhere else, out on the roads sprawling westward. (The New Yorkers' children meanwhile, they observe, learn what a cow might be like by looking at the rhino in the Central Park Zoo.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Richardson VINE VOICE on October 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This new translation (the last was in 1937) of this almost-lost work is a gem. And not just because it is by two of Soviet Russia's greatest writers and humorists. After all, it is always fascinating to hear how others see us, to see what photos they take, what impressions they bring away. Ilf and Petrov were trenchant observers of human nature, and this travelogue of their 1935 trip across America is simply a piece of classic journalism.

Of course, this is not the pair's funniest work. Hardly surprising, given that the system they lampooned with The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf (sadly, only the former is currently in print in English) was, by the time the pair turned up in America, engulfed in a paroxysm of self-mutilation. But the account of their journey is funny and at times biting, even taking into account Ilf and Petrov's need to toe the Party line (they were working for Pravda, after all).

Add in the candid and revealing photos of everyday Americans, and you have a true collector's item. In the end, reading this book is like leafing through an old family album full of vaguely familiar faces and places, with running commentary by a sarcastic, immigrant uncle. (Reviewed in Russian Life)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous on January 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One of the greatest doculogues about the America of the 1930s, documenting with humor and poignant satire the culture and society of that tumultous period of depression, the great dust bowl migration, and the effect on the various people of the country as the journalists embark on a trip to find "the real america".
The translation loses some of the humor that the authors intended but having read the book in both english and russian I still find myself laughing out loud while reading certain passages. The description of the US is funny, touching and rings true even today. The culture of mass production, needless advertising [if you chew Wrigley's gum you'll be stronger, smarter, healthier, etc...], the sameness of all american towns [downtown, residential parts, a Main Street or State Street] sound very familiar and timeless.
To note, this is not the actual translation of the book that was published in russian "One Storied America". This a translation of the articles that Ilf and Petrov published in a Russian monthly periodical and is missing several chapters that were in the book. The only complete english translation of One Storied America as it was later published in Russian is the translation done in 1937 by Charles Malamuth that is as close to the original as you can get. I believe that book is now out of print and is hard to find but I managed to locate an online version of this gem at the below website:
For those looking for a good laugh and a reality check, this book is a must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard Menzies on August 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What a pleasant read! I laughed out loud and nearly rolled out of my hammock. The descriptions are spare but spot on. Funny how not one single hitchhiker ever was curious enough to ask these two Russians any questions. Not a lot has changed in America since the Nineteen Thirties, except that we now have even more cars, even more exhaust fumes in the air, and even fewer pedestrians walking Main Street.
"There are exactly as many pedestrians as absolutely necessary to contradict the unbidden but persistent impression that the entire population of the city has perished."

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