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Group reads > Red Plenty: Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream by Francis Spufford (June 2020)

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Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Welcome to our Group read for June 2020....

Red Plenty: Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream by Francis Spufford

Once upon a time in the Soviet Union....

Strange as it may seem, the grey, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairytale. It was built on the twentieth-century magic called 'the planned economy', which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950's, the magic seemed to be working.

Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan, and every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche. It's about the scientists who did their genuinely brilliant best to make the dream come true, it give the tyranny its happy ending. It's history, it's fiction. It's a comedy of ideas, and a novel about the cost of ideas.

By award-winning (and famously unpredictable) author of The Child That Books Built and Backroom Boys, Red Plenty is as ambitious as Sputnik, as uncompromising as an Aeroflot flight attendant - and as different from what you were expecting as a glass of Soviet champagne.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
I finished this a few weeks ago and am looking forward to discovering what everyone else makes of it

I loved Golden Hill, which is also by Francis Spufford, and so came to Red Plenty: Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream with high expectations.

Susan | 9300 comments Mod
There were things I liked about this, but things I struggled with. I do like Francis Spufford's writing style though.

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I'm about 25% in and enjoying some parts so far. I thought the description of the American exhibition in Moscow, and Khruschev's visit to the US, were both very interesting. I'm working today but will be back later with more thoughts.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
I look forward to more thoughts Judy

I enjoyed it but, ultimately, found the episodic structure a little distracting and disjointed. I'd rather have explored the era and its issues through a smaller cast and fewer narrative strands.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Who else is thinking about reading this?

I know Val and Jill voted for it, so guessing they should be along at some point if they can get a copy.

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 562 comments I'm just over a third into this, and I agree with Nigeyb, it does feel disjointed. I'm assuming it will all make more sense at the end.

Susan | 9300 comments Mod
I also found this a little disjointed. I struggle with short stories and, in a way, this felt like a series of short stories. I would have preferred to have followed less characters, but I thought the American exhibition was very well done.

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I agree it feels a bit like short stories so far. It would also be handy if it was easier to turn back and check which characters are real and which are fictional - this is slightly making me wish I had gone for a paper version rather than Kindle.

I am glad you liked the American exhibition too, Susan - this section really grabbed me with the contrast of cultures, and Khruschev's visit then followed on from that. I am slightly struggling with the descriptions of early computing, but it's quite interesting even if I am not all that good at following it.

message 10: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I'm just up to the chapter where Alexander Galich visits the newspaper office. He is praised for Moscow Doesn't Believe In Tears - I saw the hit film of this in the early 80s, and wondered if it was based on a play, but can't find any information to say whether it was or not. He sounds like an interesting writer and singer, anyway, forced to emigrate from Russia in the 1970s.

message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I thought the chapter about Galich was beautifully written, possibly the best part of the book yet - it reminded me of the book about Shostakovich we read, The Noise of Time.

This was a great line:
"A drip of knowledge from here and a drip from there, until he saw that his lucky world was founded on horror."

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Good comparison Judy - and yes, that was a beautiful chapter

message 13: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments I do want to read this one, but it is one of several library reservations I have been unable to collect. The libraries may be reopening in June, so I should be able to catch up.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Thanks Val

message 15: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 562 comments I have finished this now, and although it did help me to learn about Russia after Stalin, I did not see why the fictional chapters were included. In their own way it did shed some light on the ordinary people, but just found it made for a disjointed read.

message 16: by Judy (last edited Jun 01, 2020 01:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
This is making me want to read more by Spufford, as I love his writing style. I vaguely remember being a bit disappointed by The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading (it was years ago so I don't remember why in any detail), but am enjoying this one much more. I may well go on to Golden Hill.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I may well go on to Golden Hill."

Golden Hill is wonderful Judy

Five star, spoiler free review here....

message 18: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I've just read the chapter/short story about Akademgorodok in Siberia, the "academic town" on the outskirts of Novosibirsk - I thought this was fascinating and, again, brilliantly written.

I was surprised to see about the "Ob Sea" reservoir with its own beach - here are a couple of links on this.

The Wikipedia page:

And a panorama, where you can see both the beach and the pine forest:

message 19: by Judy (last edited Jun 04, 2020 12:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
I'm not quite sure if the unnamed woman whose eyes we see through in this chapter is the same person as the woman in the American exhibition earlier - she briefly remembers it, so maybe she is. Sorry, not so - I just checked the cast list at the beginning and they are two different characters. I will try to check the characters before reading each chapter from here on in!

I am hoping the characters in this chapter will turn up later in the book.

message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
Thank you for posting the link to your Golden Hill review, Nigeyb, and sorry for the slow response! Great review - judging by Red Plenty so far, I think Spufford will be very good at bringing a historical period to life. I have added it to my TBR and will hope to read the book before too long.

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
Thanks for those Ob Sea links - wonderful

I especially enjoyed the 36o panorama photograph.

message 22: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
Is anyone else still reading this? I'm now into the last part, and am still enjoying it a lot, although it isn't quite what I expected and I can see people's point about it being fragmented.

The sheer quality of Spufford's writing is carrying me along, though, and it works well for me to have the vivid fictional chapters illustrating the sometimes rather dry historical analysis in the sections printed in italics.

message 23: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
Val, looks as if libraries should be opening soon, so hopefully you can get your copy before too long. :)

Nigeyb | 8755 comments Mod
I can't wait for libraries to reopen

You're spot on about Spufford's writing - he's wonderful

message 25: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments This one is another library reservation I have collected. I have only read the introduction so far, which explains what Francis Spufford is trying to do with the novel.

message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4376 comments Mod
Glad to hear you have it at last, Val. I hope you enjoy it - I found it a bit uneven but thought a lot of it was fascinating.

message 27: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments The impression I have so far is that most of it is straight history, and probably written in a much more accessible style than the source material he used. The parts he invents illustrate the history with events which could have happened, given the circumstances.

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