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The Twelve Chairs

(Ostap Bender #1)

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  18,545 ratings  ·  371 reviews
Ostap Bender is an unemployed con artist living by his wits in postrevolutionary Soviet Russia. He joins forces with Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a former nobleman who has returned to his hometown to find a cache of missing jewels which were hidden in some chairs that have been appropriated by the Soviet authorities. The search for the bejeweled chairs takes these ...more
Paperback, 395 pages
Published April 2nd 1997 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1927)
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Foreword and Notes
Translator's Introduction

--The Twelve Chairs

Translator's Notes
Ahmad Sharabiani
Двенадцать стульев = Dvenadtsat stulyev = The Twelve Chairs, Ilya Ilf, Yevgeni Petrov
The Twelve Chairs is a classic satirical novel by the Odessan Soviet authors Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, published in 1928. Its plot follows characters attempting to obtain jewelry hidden in a chair. Its main character Ostap Bender reappears in the book's sequel The Golden Calf, in spite of his apparent death in Chairs. The novel has been adapted to other media, primarily film.
Ilf and Petrov gained a high
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012

Good fun. It feels a bit dated, but that may be due to me being a Romanian and reading a 1960 English translation of a 1927 Russian text, and losing some of the original flavor along the way. Still, it is easy to see why Twelve Chairs is considered a classic, both inside and outside the Soviet space. At the first glance, it is an extremely sharp satire of the times in which the talented duo from Odessa were both witnesses and actors, as seen in the chapters about the editor of a Moscow
Vit Babenco
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“Tell me, dad,” said the young man, taking a puff, “are there any marriageable young girls in this town?”
The old caretaker did not show the least surprise.
“For some a mare'd be a bride,” he answered, readily striking up a conversation.
“I have no more questions,” said the young man quickly. And he immediately asked one more: “A house like this and no girls in it?”
“It's a long while since there've been any young girls here,” replied the old man. “This is a state institution – a home for old-age
Ilf and Petrov started off writing short humorous pieces for Soviet newspapers. The quest plot of The Twelve Chairs gave them a loose format that allowed them to write it as a series of fairly short comic incidents. (My favourite of these has the lead character posing as Chess Grand Master and challenging an entire chess club to simultaneous matches - an effort which gets off to a good start). This isn't unique, Three Men in a Boat, Diary of a Nobody and The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes ...more
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm almost ashamed for not enjoying this book a lot more, but I suppose I've read it too late.
The beginning was one of the funniest I've come across in a long time, there were hilarious moments when I laughed out loud, the plot was really well crafted at times and it had some interesting insights into Russian social and political climate around 1920's. I was amazed to discover that some of the observations are valid even today - some things never change, it seems.
Yet, the language was a little
Harry Kane
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
All my life this was the funniest book I have ever read. Once a year or two I would revisit it and double up instantly in helpless mirth. Because of this book I can pinpoint with accuracy the year I matured - it was the year I reread the book and realized that in spite of it playfull wittiness, it described a crushingly depressive vision of humanity. The last time I reread this book I didn't laugh once. I only cringed and groaned. Still brilliant, but suddenly not so lighthearted at all.
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caterina by: Tatiana
According to a twenty-something friend who recently immigrated to the U.S. from Russia, this 1927 satirical-comic novel is still so popular in Russia that not only has everyone read it (on their own—not in school!) but everyone quotes from it in their everyday speech. The only thing remotely comparable I can think of in America is cult classic movie quotes.

Life is quite absurd, and that’s the final word*

Or at least that’s the view from the cheap seats in early Soviet Russia. Yet somehow this
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Written in the 1920s, this is not your typical Russian fare. Filled with humor, this book examines Russian society in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov was a nobleman and, on her deathbed, his mother-in-law reveals she hid all of her jewels in one of the twelve dining room chairs. Off he goes to find out what happened to his property, but quickly discovers that she also told her priest, who secretly longs to be a factory owner. Having no idea how to locate ...more
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well, I've read this book for about 3 or 4 times so far and listened once to a radio dramatisation. All in Russian, of course. The first acquaintance with the book occurred when I was just a little boy, of about 10. Knowing very little about USSR's grievous past, about uneasy 20s or new economical policy (NEP) introduced by Lenin, about hardships of a newly born communist empire and so forth, all these being a setting for the novel in question, I enjoyed it much nonetheless.

Then I read this
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A thousand kind of people are living in this book. Rich, poor, old, young, crafty, deceived, brave, coward, intellectual, ignorant... But the thing that brings them together is the same: pursuit of money. Ilf and Petrov succesfully and colorfully portrays one of the most important passions of mankind, "getting rich". Their depiction of "a thousand kind of" people with humorous language (this kind of humour created laughter storms in my home every night!) makes you wanna go to U.S.S.R of 1920's ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
All the time it was going so nice, so funny, but then the ending...!!!

OMG! First I thought I've misunderstood something, after third time rereading all I can say: F you Ilya Ilf, F you! I still cant believe it! Not Bender! Please!

But I can't give it less than 5 (though i have to try to forget 'THE ENDING'), pure humour, loved it.
May 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unable-to-finish
I tried. I really tried. But after reading half of this, I must concede defeat. I cannot endure it. Perhaps if I was north of sixty and born and raised in an unknown town in the Soviet Union it would be different. Perhaps if the translation was better. Perhaps if the sun was vermillion and the sky brown. Perhaps if we drank meat and sliced wine. Perhaps if we walked on our hands and picked fruit with our toes. Alas...
Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Russian Lit People
Shelves: russian
When you hear me say: "Don't tell me how to live," you hear me quotethis book. You might need to know a little about Russian history to enjoy this, or not. Times were tough, money was scarce, and Moscow was having a housing crisis. You're prepared. Go read it.
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soviet, russia
OK, now that was just plain old... fun.

A bit dated, sure. But it's very easy to see why it's become a classic; not only is it laugh-out-loud-in-public funny, but with some brilliant settings and character work too, all circling around a huckster character who'll sell people any get-rich-quick scheme or political/philosophical utopia with the same bravado. Almost as if there wasn't really a huge difference between appealing to Mammon or Lenin when it comes to getting people to think they're doing
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love Russian satire from the late imperial and early Soviet period. It's basically a picaresque - Ostap Bender is a rogue who knows Soviet society so deeply and truly that he can exploit it for his own gain. Voryobaninov is dragged along (well, mostly :-) and everyone else is basically a caricature - but what brilliant caricatures! I&P do for the Soviet period what Gogol did for the Imperial - basically, show that nothing's changed.
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this in Russian years ago. While it's absolutely hilarious in its native language, the translation works just fine, too. To really appreciate, however, you'll need to have a decent grasp of Russian culture and humor, specifically during the Soviet era.

I loved this enough that let's put it this way... I have a cat named Ostap. :D
A sure sign of a great novel is its ability to enthrall and entertain the reader over and over again, withstanding multiple rereads over the years. Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov is such a novel for me. I can probably turn the last page and immediately crack the book open again at the beginning, perpetually submerged in the adventures of former bourgeois Kisa Vorobyaninov and the legendary conman Ostap Bender as they throw themselves into a breakneck hunt for the coveted chair with heirloom ...more
Anna Kļaviņa
Is this one of the works that are untranslatable like Eugene Onegin, I'm not sure. Could be.

Ostap Bender is now one of my favourite characters. I've suspicion he might be a sociopath, someone you would wish to avoid in real life but as fictional character it's hard not to like him. He is very charming.

Osip Shor (Осип Шор) - the prototype of Ostap Bender. Interesting personality.

Free audiobook available here. Password:
Marianna Neal
If you understand the cultural references, you may actually die laughing. I almost did :)
Ksenia Chernyshova
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
So funny I was laughing out loud in public places, not giving a damn, but also that fucking ending... I don't know if I should laugh or cry now.
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, formerly a wealthy noble before the Russian Revolution and now a midlevel government bureaucrat, learns from his mother-in-law on her deathbed that she hid a fortune in jewels in one of a set of twelve chairs that were confiscated and redistributed following the Revolution. Vorobyaninov goes out in search of these twelve chairs, quickly teaming up with a conman named Ostap Bender, and together they go after the hidden jewels.

That is a heck of an intriguing plot,
Jun 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Russian humor at its best
Apr 19, 2012 added it
The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, and its sequel, The Golden Calf, have enjoyed an immense popularity in Russia and Eastern Europe. I had read (and greatly enjoyed) The Golden Calf many years ago in Romanian, and as a consequence, I was very excited by the recent publication of a new English translation of The Twelve Chairs (Northwestern, 2011, translated from the Russian by Anne O. Fisher). I wondered, however, whether a satirical Russian novel set in 1927 and published a year ...more
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book many years ago when I was in college—loved it! Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov had been a nobleman in Russia before the revolution. Some of his family’s jewels had been hidden inside the seats of a set of chairs which were confiscated by authorities. With the help of a con artist named Ostap Bender, Ippolit sets out to find them. This satire of the early Soviet system had me, at times, laughing out loud at the escapades of the two men as they travelled the country in search of ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: satire
A very good satire that reminds me somehow of Bulgakov. Recommended!
Garrett Zecker
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brilliant satirical novel is a simple and fun profile of post-revolutionary Russia and the various ways in which society has changed as a result of the communities new social mores and laws along with the immediate, new inconsistencies. The book is hilarious, and I wish that I knew a great deal more about the historical implications of the satire that exists in the book because I am sure that the book would have been a lot more funny for me with an original context. Furthermore, in the ...more
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved both The Golden Calf and The Twelve Chairs, by Ilf and Petrov. I would say for both books, what Sinclair said about The Golden Calf:

"....Upton Sinclair “assured us that he'd never laughed as hard ashe did while reading

The Little Golden Calf.

... he announced thathe practically had it memorized.”—

Letters of Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov (1935)

There is a sadness and regret as I write this, since I had to live through all that: Yes, Ilf and Petrov make it all sound very funny, but the humor is
May 16, 2016 rated it liked it
A satirical account of the early soviet times, the NEP period, disguised as an action comedy.
It is surprising how this book (and the second one - The Little Golden Calf) passed the rigour of the drastic communist censorship.
I read it initially 30 years ago and I was amazed by the incessant humour and the sharp fine critique of a society which was totally different from the one portrayed in the propaganda books.
People here try to make a living, some more desperately than others and none is
Scott Wilson
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was always curious to what degree novels changed during the Stalin years. Many books were suppressed, read in secret underground meetings, or smuggled out of the country for publication. This great book by Ilf and Petrov did not need the aforementioned methods; it was published and loved in Russia. The story and writing are great, and while the backdrop of the novel is the Soviet Union, it does not pander to the ruling party. It also does not become too political, but instead uses the Soviet ...more
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Ilya Ilf, pseudonym of Iehiel-Leyb (Ilya) Arnoldovich Faynzilberg was a popular Soviet journalist and writer of Jewish origin who usually worked in collaboration with Yevgeni Petrov during the 1920s and 1930s. Their duo was known simply as Ilf and Petrov. Together they published two popular comedy novels The Twelve Chairs (1928) and The Little Golden Calf (1931), as well as a satirical book ...more

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