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Envy

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3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,885 ratings  ·  162 reviews
One of the delights of Russian literature, a tour de force that has been compared to the best of Nabokov and Bulgakov, Yuri Olesha's novella brings together cutting social satire, slapstick humor, and a wild visionary streak. Andrei is a model Soviet citizen, a swaggeringly self-satisfied mogul of the food industry who intends to revolutionize modern life with ...more
Paperback, 152 pages
Published May 31st 2004 by NYRB Classics (first published 1927)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  2,885 ratings  ·  162 reviews


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Buck
Sep 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russians
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
Bill Kerwin
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, novella

Soviet writer Yury Olesha really pulled something off with Envy (1927): he published a scathing satire of the pomposity and limited intellectual vision of a typical Soviet official, a satire which was favorably—and enthusiastically—reviewed by Pravda. How did he accomplish such a feat? By satirizing even more viciously the reactionary opponents of that official, demonstrating how a romantic self-conception may distort a person’s vision of achievement, until he is filled with nothing but a
...more
Josh
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Tony
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
This starts off well: Mornings he sings on the toilet.

It’s an observation made by Nikolai Kavalerov, our narrator, of Andrei Babichev. Andrei has managed to play the Soviet game and has done quite well for himself, well enough anyhow to sing on the toilet in the morning. It was Nikolai whom Andrei found drunk in the gutter one day and rescued, sort of, taking him into his household and giving him a gopher kind of job. But Nikolai will turn ingrate, as anti-heroes often do. He’s spends his time
...more
Connie G
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
"Envy" is a social satire, published in 1927, during the early years of the Soviet New Economic Policy, a confusing time when the Communist society adopted some Capitalistic policies. The book shows the strengths and flaws of both the new era and the old era. The destitute Nikolai Kavalerov is taken in by the successful businessman Andrei Babichev. Kavalerov envies the success and respect that Babichev receives, but also feels contempt for him. Kavalerov has a poetic soul and wants to have a ...more
Rebecka
May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_in_russian
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 ...more
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
lisa_emily
Oct 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Adam Dalva
Apr 01, 2016 rated it liked it
A tale of two books (interestingly, with the same structure as Master and Margarita), with an absolutely fantastic 5 star first half that gets sucked into a jumble in Part Two. The sections have little in common besides character (first person vs third; modest surreality vs complete absurdity; recognizable characters vs dreams), and the allegory at play in the latter part of the book is frustratingly opaque. That's not Olesha's fault, of course, given the situation in the 20's, but it's ...more
J.M. Hushour
Oct 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Books that linger long out of their relevance are hard to judge. Envy is very much a novel of its time, that weird post-Revolutionary decade when the Soviet shit really started to hit the fan. The novel's antagonism between the sad-sack would-be avant-gardist and the New Man of Soviet Russia (here an overweight sausage manufacturer) resonates far less now than it did then. But their simmering, slow-motion conflict, exacerbated by the sausage maker's eccentric brother who sides with sad-sack, is ...more
Greg Heaney
Jun 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia
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 ...more
El
Mar 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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,
...more
Sooz
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star
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
...more
Darya Conmigo
Aug 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Lobstergirl
Feb 02, 2010 rated it liked it
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,
...more
Justin Evans
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I feared for a second that this would end up being another liberal's wet-dream of Soviet satire, in which the Great Evil is pilloried by the upstanding individual etc etc... But no! It's much, much more, and everyone comes out looking like a jackass. Nikolai is very much in the tradition of Dostoevsky's underground man, whom you might identify as a romantic hero rebelling against the evils of his society etc., but who is actually, at best, a symptom of that society and, at worst, more or less a ...more
Richard Stuart
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
From the brilliant opening sentence to the degrading, yet defining ending scene, Olesha's novel is superb in it's satire and poetry.

The beartrap of envy: once closed, its teeth grinding into you like a pumpkin's smile; the mirror of your self-importance cracked, spilling drunk blood, watered down and swept away into the gutter; above all, your heart-dreams riotously murdered red by revolution... time's automatic and mechanical bootstep marching over the redacted face of Jesus.


Envy this book.
...more
Jon Norimann
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Envy" is a well written piece about 3-4 men living in the Soviet Union in 1930 or so. A very nice short read.
Janet
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia
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 ...more
Sarah
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: Agnes Obel
Shelves: 2016
The whole time I was reading this, I couldn't figure out whose ideological side Olesha was on. As it turns out, no one else can either! To his credit, I think. And the writing is beautiful. (At least in translation.)

(I read this mostly because it influenced Agnes Obel's soon-to-be-released new album.)
Nick
Sep 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Walker White
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
As Nabokov has noted, this is absolutely first-rate prose fiction. Olesha captures with acute psychological depth and descriptive imagination, the push and pull of Bolshevik society in the 1920’s— the era of N.E.P. This satire operates on an almost subterranean level, yet its emotion and poetry is deeply felt, and ultimately tragic.
Rob Forteath
Nov 05, 2018 rated it liked it
It was obvious that everything in the book was satire, and that it was likely very cutting -- if only we knew what the target was. We can take the elements of the story and piece together (in our heads) the particular Soviet society ten years following the revolution, but by the time we've managed that the satire has no bite.

What remains to the modern reader is the story and characters, some funny interactions, some universal observations. Unfortunately, it is not enough. People in another
...more
Tina Panik
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I didn't understand this book at all.
Catalina
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book grew on me, I admit I had problems grasping at least a seed of meaning. I was remembering to have heard of it while reading Helmut Schoeck's Envy and was expecting something covering the envy aspect. Therefore I was taken completely by surprise by the surrealism and all the socialist/communist elements. But slowly everything made sens and I started to quite enjoy it. It did remind me of Bulgakov but not that much of Nabokov.
Now, to even begin to understand this book you need to have a
...more
Matt
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, russia
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
...more
Niklas
Oct 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of the strangest books I've read so far this year. Part one reads like Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground but with more modernist and sometimes experimental prose. In part two the book suddenly goes off the rails and almost delves into the surreal. We go from the coldness and industrialisation of early Soviet life in part one to strange magical realism centred around an ambiguous kind of Doomsday device.

A strange and unique book, check it out if you get the chance.
Nikolay Nikiforov
Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book turned out to be rather different from what I remembered. I expected Envy to be a disciplined "unreliable narrator" modernist experiment a la Nabokov, but it's much more chaotic, especially in its second part. All the contemporary painting styles seem to be evoked by Olesha, whether it would be cubism, constructivism, suprematism or impressionism.
Sunjay
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
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...
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Discovering Russi...: * Envy by Yuri Olesha 12 89 Sep 02, 2016 06:47PM  
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Yury Karlovich Olesha (Russian: Юрий Карлович Олеша), Soviet author of fiction, plays and satires best known for his 1927 novel Envy (Russian: Зависть). He is considered one of the greatest Russian novelists of the 20th century, one of the few to have succeeded in writing works of lasting artistic value despite the stifling censorship of the era. His works are delicate balancing-acts that ...more
“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.” 8 likes
“…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…”
8 likes
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