Edward's Reviews > The Twelve Chairs

The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf
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bookshelves: russia-ukraine, fiction, translated, own, 4-star

Foreword and Notes
Translator's Introduction


--The Twelve Chairs

Translator's Notes
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 11, 2012 – Shelved
May 3, 2013 – Shelved as: russia-ukraine
May 3, 2013 – Shelved as: fiction
May 13, 2013 – Shelved as: translated
February 5, 2015 – Shelved as: own
August 29, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
October 19, 2018 – Shelved as: 4-star

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Edward "It was that hour of Sunday when lucky folks are hauling mattresses and chests of drawers from the Smolensk market down the Arbat.
Newlyweds and middle-class Soviet citizens are the primary purchasers of mattresses with springs. They carry them upright, embracing them with both hands. How could they not embrace the sky-blue foundation of their happiness, dotted, as it is, with shiny, big-snouted flowers!
Citizens! Respect the mattress with springs and a sky-blue floral print! It is the family hearth, the alpha and omega of furnishings, the be-all and end-all of domestic comfort, the foundation of love, the father of the primus stove! How sweet it is to slumber to the democratic chimes of its springs! What pleasant dreams are had by him who falls asleep on its sky-blue ticking! What respect is enjoyed by every mattress-owner!
A man deprived of a mattress is pitiful. He doesn't exist. He doesn't pay taxes, he doesn't have a wife, his friends don't lend him money 'until Wednesday,' taxi drivers shout insulting words when he walks past, and girls laugh at him. They don't like idealists.
More often than not, a man deprived of a mattress will write poetry:

It's pleasant to rest in a rocking chair
Under the soft chime of a Buhre clock.
Snowflakes whirl in the courtyard, where
Jackdaws, like dreams, fly past in a flock.

He writes these poems at the high counter of the telegraph office, holding up mattress-owners who've come on business to send telegrams.
A mattress rends the fabric of people's lives. A kind of power is concealed in its upholstery and springs, a magnetic power that science has not yet explained. People and things alike flock to the inviting call of its springs. The tax inspector comes over, and girls. They all want to be friends with mattress-owners. The tax inspector does this for financial reasons, for the benefit of the state, while the girls do it selflessly, obeying the laws of nature.
The flowering of youth begins. The tax inspector, who has collected his taxes the way a bee collects the springtime's bribe, flies off to his local hive with a joyful buzzing. And the girls, who have receded like the tide, are replaced by a wife and a Yuvel No. 1 primus stove.
The mattress is insatiable. It demands sacrifices. At night it rings out like a falling sword. It needs freestanding shelving. It needs a table supported by stupid pedestals. Lashing out with its springs, it demands curtains, drapes, and kitchenware. It shoves the man and tells him:
'Go! Buy an ironing paddle and a rocking chair!'
'I'm ashamed of you, man! You still don't have a rug!'
'Work! Soon I will bring you children! You need money for diapers and a baby carriage.'
The mattress remembers everything and does everything in its own way.
Not even the poet can escape the common fate. There he is, bringing the mattress home from the market, pressing himself to its soft belly with horror.
'I shall break your will, poet!' says the mattress. 'You won't need to run to the telegraph office to write poems anymore. And anyway, is it even worth writing them? Work! And the balance sheet will always be in your favor. Think about your wife and children.'
'I don't have a wife,' shouts the poet, staggering away from his springéd teacher.
'You will. And I make no guarantees that she'll be the prettiest girl on earth. I don't even know if she'll be nice. Be prepared for anything. You will have children.'
'I don't like children!'
'You will!'
'You're scaring me, citizen mattress!'
'Shut up, dummy! You don't know the half of it! You're going to go to the Moscow Woodworking Industry Trust to take out credit for furniture, too.'
'I'll kill you, mattress!'
'Puppy! If you dare, your neighbors will report you to building management.'
So, every Sunday, lucky folks circulate around Moscow to the joyous ringing of mattresses."


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