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3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,341 ratings  ·  75 reviews

First published in 1927, this brilliant satire of the Soviet system presents three comic characters, Nikolai Kavalerov and the Babichev brothers, bumbling their way through the bureaucracy. Translated by the renowned Robert Payne.
Paperback, 200 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Green Integer (first published 1927)
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Ever stopped to look at a dried-up turd in a field? I mean, really looked at the thing, hunkering down to admire the dessicated swirl of it, treasuring up the perception as one more radiant gift in life's lavish plenitude? Um, no, me either, actually. But Yuri Olesha apparently has. There's an amazing passage in Envy where a character is crossing a vacant lot and listing all the detritus he sees, in a mock-epic catalogue that takes in, among other things, a bottle, a shoe and a shred of bandage, ...more
This book made me realize the way that satire, if taken to a linguistic (if not necessarily logical) extreme, can actually turn inside out and become a form of praise. Olesha's narrator keeps talking about how much he hates, but his language is so lively that eventually you come to see him as a creature posessed, not by anger, but by a strange and uncontrollable joy. He's a Mozart of hate: so excellent at it that the simple practice of his gift makes him smile despite himself. The record of his ...more
Here's a question for you: What do you get when you cross Dostoyevsky's underground man, Gogol's wicked satire, a Nabokovian gift for metaphor, and place them in early Soviet Russia?

Unfortunately, something less than the sum of its parts.

Envy is set in 1920s Soviet Russia, with a drunken loser, Kavalerov, living in the home of a porcine official sausage-maker, Babichev, who is beloved by all. Kavalerov hates Babichev's guts, and writes a letter full of bile against him. Soon after, there's some
Greg Heaney
Envy captures the single greatest hallmark of Russian literature: ambiguity. It is the same sense of confusion that leaves true lovers of Flannery O’Conner saying to themselves “I know this was important… but why?” Olesha’s novel concerns itself with one of the most important ideas in the newly formed USSR, the “New Soviet Man.” Rejecting the alcoholic, bored, womanizing, unorganized model of a true man that used to be famous, Lenin wanted to glorify the youth, virility, equality, and mechanic d ...more
David Lentz
Lately, I have found myself on a bit of a reading jag with the Russian literary novelists who were effectively repressed and, thus, went sadly unread during their lifetimes. There is a strange kind of bitter sweetness to the writing as well as power, wit, satire and illumination with a markedly Soviet flare. Because Soviet censorship and cultural repression were ultimately death knells to Russian writers, you have to admire their persistance amid the hopelessness of their culture for their publi ...more
If it were not for the first 50% of this more or less being a normal book (and an interesting one, too!), I would have given this 1 star. The first 50% - 4 stars, the last - 0 to 1. Perhaps I just don't get Russian literature. What's wrong with having an actual narrative? What's with this need to make everything absurd to get whatever obscure point you're interested in across? (I didn't get the point, AT ALL.) There's an obnoxious drunk (again Russia, what's with the unlikeable main characters?) ...more
уже начиная с первой строки, с первого предложения «по утрам он поет в клозете», предложения, являвшегося объектом особой заботы автора, который был убежден, что уже по нему самому можно решить дальнейшую судьбу произведения, будет ли оно читаться или нет, можно сказать, что же будет из того, что развернется в тексте дальше; роман действительно не разочаровывает, что и говорить. Он кардинально отличается от того, что было сделано в фильме «строгий юноша», но прочтение и возможность сопоставить л ...more
Jun 30, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Helen Dragas
Shelves: covers, nyrb, fiction, russia
Clever, disgusting, and very avant garde. I wasn't quite in the mood for its avant-ness at this precise moment in time. There is a description of a mole that is possibly unrivalled.

Tags: satire, soccer, Soviets, sausage, communal living, unreliable narration, acrobat legs, magnificent groins

He's carrying around six poods. Recently, walking down the stairs somewhere, he noticed his breasts bouncing in time to his steps. So he decided to add a new set of calisthenics.

He's stripped to the waist, w
Startling and HIlarious; a sort-of parody, it seems to me, of Dostoevsky's underground man, saturated with images and actions more dream-like and let's just say "beautiful" than a reader might expect from a novel published in the new Soviet Union, in 1927.
Yuri Olesha wrote Envy in 1927, at a time when many of his contemporary writers were either shot or trundled off to the Gulag. My guess is that the GPU (predecessor to the KGB) couldn't quite understand Olesha's humor, and I tend to sympathize with them.

Envy is divided into two parts. The first part is fairly straightforward: A lowlife drunk named Nikolai Kavalerov is "adopted" by a party apparatchik by the name of Andrei Babichev. We see Babichev as a self-important buffoon, who sees his role
wow. the first couple of pages just blow me away. every single sentence is like a gem. is it possible that Olesha has sustained this blend of imaginative language, wit and absurdism, and just all round fabulous story telling, throughout the course of the book? is that even possible? if he has this book is a treasure!

now, on page 40, i can read no more ... at least for now. i think all readers have those books they couldn't put down and all things -even sleep- must wait and we dwell within the r
Darya Conmigo
For me, this novel really works in tandem with The Three Fat Men. Anyone who knows a little about the author will recognize him in Nikolai Kavalerov, the protagonist of the Envy story. Just as Yury Olesha himself, Kavalerov feels capable of great deeds and, at the same time, unable to find his place or accomplish anything in the new Soviet Russia. These are the "sausage makers" like Andrey Babichev that the country needs, not poets and philosophers.

I've read Envy right after finishing The Three
I love when a book is compared to the writing of Bulgakov and Nabokov. I know I'm in for a treat when I see that. And talk about unreliable narrators!

The description on the back of the book says it best: "Nikolai is a loser." He's not a very good Communist and seriously, he's a real louse. He's taken in by Andrei who is the complete opposite of Nikolai - he's successful, a proper Soviet citizen, upstanding. Nikolai is consumed by envy of Andrei; he does not believe that which Andrei believes, bu
Oct 22, 2008 lisa_emily rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: underground notists
Shelves: russian-lit, nyrb
Again, another random find while running my finger along bookspines in the public library, I suppose the cover’s design made itself familiar to me: NYRB.
It was a short novel and it had a Russian author, I decided to give it a try.

It begins with a blast, as though you have woken up to see the character in question. By the end of the first chapter you are introduced to the players: Kavalerov, the narrator and Andrei Babichev, the object of disdain.

The blurbs put this book in the same category as N
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I was going through one of those dry patches, starting books and then putting them down, when I picked up this Russian satirical novel from 1927 and started reading about a big beefy bald New Man named Babichev singing a nonsense song during his vigorous morning bowel movement, and was caught. Basking in the bright light of the new day and all afire to bring about a new world order, sausage man Andrei Babichev is viewed through the eyes of his foil, the pathetic Nikolai Kavalerov, a hyper-sensit ...more
Jeff Scott
Envy seems like the perfect bridge between the old and the new Russia. Written in 1927 just 10 years after the Russian revolution, the author seems to seamlessly combine classic Russian Literature like Fathers and Sons and foreshadow a host of future of dystopian literature from 1984, Brave New World, and the Master and the Margarita. There is a scene near the end of the book that directly challenges the horrors of the Soviet Union. A machine of government stomping on the rights of the individua ...more
No entiendo lo que le pasa a 'Envidia': tiene dos partes y cada parte parece en realidad un libro distinto escrito por un autor distinto. No lo entiendo. Tiene una primera parte notable y una segunda parte infumable. Es la típica sátira de escritor ruso que consiguió marcarle un gol al régimen y la censura soviética. Y sí, la primera parte es una sátira divertida, ingeniosa y fresca. Pero la segunda parte se adentra en meandros oníricos y fantasías surrealistas y se pierde, se pierde. No lo enti ...more
This short novel published in 1927 combines an unreliable narrator and life in the first 10 years of the Soviet Union. Andrei Babichev has produced a sausage and a cafeteria that will revolutionize the lives of Soviet women and will support the progress of the new Soviet state. Kavalerov spends 150 pages devoted to envy of Babichev and anyone successful in this endeavor. The new Soviet Man and the bourgeois past meet and it isn't pleasant. [reread 2013, 2014]
If Oblomov had lived in the early Soviet era, he would probably have turned out like Kavalerov, the anti-hero of Olesha’s wonderful comic novella ‘Envy’: a pathetic scrounger, living off the beneficence of state businessman Babichev, while despising everything that he stands for (efficiency, mechanization, healthy bowels).

‘Envy’, like ‘Oblomov’ was seen at first, by the Soviet literary establishment, as a criticism of the ‘superfluous men’ of Russia’s past. It came in time to be seen as the exa
This was required reading for the 20th century Russian Literature class I'm taking in college. Don't know what it's supposed to be about even though I read the whole thing. I was so confused at one point that the professor had to draw me a picture on the board. I guess there are people who would enjoy this book, but I don't recommend it.
Gijs Grob
Gelezen in de Nederlandse vertaling van Charles B. Timmer.

Merkwaardige en delirische roman in twee delen over twee dikke, kleine losers: de afgunstige Kawalerow en de waanzinnige Ivan Babitsjew, die zich verloren voelen in de 'nieuwe tijd' en jaloers zijn op 'de nieuwe mens'. De roman opent magistraal met Kawalerows verwrongen visie op zijn weldoener, de zeer succesvolle zakenman/volkscommisaris Andrej Babitsjew. Het tweede deel is onsamenhangender, bijna collage-achtig geschreven, maar staat vo
Sunjay Chandiramani
Dense and complex, not for the faint of heart! I expected a light story given the jacket summary and slim volume. Boy was I wrong. Hallucinations, multiple story lines added and dropped at will, it's heavy modernist fare on offer here. In the end, I'm not really even sure what this book was about, apart from the obvious title...
Shane Westfall
The last 20 pages are brilliant but my the work it took to get there, and this is a short piece. The author creates some vivid imagery, yet it seems as if he had a 40 page story that he padded out into a novella. The flip in perspective was quite annoying and his constant treks off the story line to ramble about...well, nothing were quite distracting. Until the finale I was ready to give this one 1 star, but I suppose the last few pages made it worth reading. I still couldn't recommend this one ...more
Jeff Friederichsen
Envy portrays a society in violent transition; personalities act as surrogates for competing movements toward or away from modernity as defined by the proponents of the relatively new order: Bolshevism in Russia, in this case. The story is told in an episodic manner. It was somewhat unengaging for me, an ignorant of the historical context. I imagined it as a surrealist film of this era, a conglomerate of images and motivations inscrutable, reflecting themes of psychological and social turmoil. A ...more
What makes envy such a fixation in Russian literature? Mad, seething envy. Envy, also the most common source of protagonist debasement and humor.

It's part Notes from the Underground and part Diary of a Madman. The viewpoint: a self-righteous envious lowlife. Piqued, he fills the pages with exaggerated scorn. It was very funny, but I wondered how long I would be able to tolerate him. But then a wild eccentric comes to the book's rescue.

It works very well as a social critique, because it's so fu
Greg McConeghy
The edition I read is translated by Clarence Brown. 132 pages.
Read this book for my 20th Century Russian Literature class and, much like the Russians, I was really not sure what to make of it. After reading the book and spending two days of class discussion on him, I'm still not sure whether the writer was a genius or just incredibly over-dramatic. I didn't enjoy "Envy", but despite this fact I still have to give shout-out to its dry, almost imperceptible humor and sometimes very beautiful style of the writing. Not a pleasure read, but a good book if you w ...more
This little book is growing on me, opening up. It started out as an orgy of self-humiliation, painfully Gogolesque, painfully Doestoyevskian, that kind of humor--but it's developing layers of ideas and richness--it's only 125 pages! Just finished a passage where a very appealing second character extols the virtues of strong feeling and their vanishing with the modern era--and it's not just Communism, it's the loss of humanity and eccentricity and passion. Broad strokes and lots of ranting, but t ...more
Best book I've read in ten years, maybe.
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NYRB Classics: Envy, by Yuri Olesha 1 3 Oct 22, 2013 09:26PM  
  • The Queue
  • The Foundation Pit
  • Memories of the Future
  • Happy Moscow
  • Forever Flowing
  • The Petty Demon
  • The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin
  • The Case of Comrade Tulayev
  • Petersburg
  • Moscow to the End of the Line
  • The Slynx
  • Red Cavalry
  • The Golovlyov Family
  • Nervous People and Other Satires
  • The Compromise
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov
  • Omon Ra
  • Pushkin House

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“…you know, sometimes an electric lightbulb goes out all of a sudden. Fizzles, you say. And this burned-out bulb, if you shake it, it flashes again and it’ll burn a little longer. Inside the bulb it’s a disaster. The wolfram filaments are breaking up, and when the fragments touch, life returns to the bulb. A brief, unnatural, undeniably doomed life—a fever, a too-bright incandescence, a flash. The comes the darkness, life never returns, and in the darkness the dead, incinerated filaments are just going to rattle around. Are you following me? But the brief flash is magnificent!

“I want to shake…

“I want to shake the heart of a fizzled era. The lightbulb of the heart, so that the broken pieces touch…

“…and produce a beautiful, momentary flash…”
“Human life is insignificant. What’s ominous is the movement of the spheres. When I settled here, a sun speck sat on the doorjamb at two in the afternoon. Thirty-six days passed. The speck jumped to the next room. The earth had completed another leg of its journey. The little sun speck, a child’s plaything, reminds us of eternity.” 4 likes
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