One of the interesting parts of previous reading weeks has been the opportunity to revisit books from the particular year we’ve chosen to focus upon. 1936, however, is proving to be a bumper year in many respects, and as far as I can tell an awful lot of my reading from that year is a long time pre-blog. This means, alas, that my memories are going to be little fuzzy about what I read and when! So instead I wanted to focus today on a pair of authors I’ve been reading since my early teens and a work they released in 1936.

My Ilf and Petrov collection

The authors are Ilf and Petrov, and they’ve only made fleeting, oblique appearances on the Ramblings. Best known for their Soviet satires “The Twelve Chairs” (1928) and “The Golden Calf” (1931) (as they’re titled in my 1960s editions, both translated by John Richardson), their real names were Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrovich Kataev. The latter was, in fact, the brother of Valentin Kataev who’s featured on the blog a lot, and Yevgeni changed his name to Petrov to avoid confusion with his brother.

As well as producing their two satirical novels, Ilf and Petrov wrote theatrical plays and screenplays, humorous short stories and satirical articles for magazines. However, I wanted to focus here on one of their activities from the middle of the 1930s… You see, in 1935 Ilf and Petrov were able to visit the USA, taking a road trip across the Depression-hit country, and they published a book on their trip, translated as “Little Golden America” – and here is my edition:

I have to say I’m very fond and proud of my copy, although I can’t actually be sure when I found it; but I suspect it was in 2006 or 2007, for reasons which will become clear! It wasn’t easy to track down, and mine is a 1946 edition of a book which Wikipedia says was released in 1937; although interestingly the copyright page indicates differently:

And as you can see, according to the front of my “Little Golden America”, the text was first published in 1936 as “One Story America”; and further research reveals that sections of the book were published in Ogoniok/Ogonek magazine in 1936 as a photo-essay. That piece was reproduced as a book in 2006, which I also happen to have:

And the book itself gives further information about the history and publication of the record of Ilf and Petrov’s American trip:

The book itself is a beautiful edition and absolutely fascinating; the photos and the text are wonderfully evocative, really bringing to life the America of the time. The thirties were such a strange time in many ways, with extreme poverty for some, the rise of right-wing ideologies and a sense of change and uncertainty. The fact that Ilf and Petrov were allowed to travel abroad during what was a repressive time in Russia still astonishes me, but the result was this fascinating snapshot of the past.

My editions of the Ostap Bender satirical novels!

I loved Ilf and Petrov when I first read them in my teens; and when I rediscovered them in the 2000s I was just as affected by their wonderful writing. Both men died sadly too young: Ilf of TB just after their return from American, and Petrov in a plane crash when he was acting as a front-line correspondent in the Second World War. However, they left behind them a body of work which ensures they’re not forgotten, particularly the two satirical Ostap Bender novels. I’m glad the #1936club has nudged me back to reconnecting with their work, and alhough I don’t think I’ll actually read any of their books this week, I shall most definitely try to keep them in my line of sight! 😀