18.8.09

Ilf & Petrov - American Road Trip


Rating 8.0

Serendipity happens. And this book looks like the perfect example for such an interesting phenomenon. I was randomly investigating on the shelves of a second hand bookstore while my eyes were caught by something named "Il paese di Dio" (God's country)*.

At first I thought it had something to do with theology or whatever else connected with Watchtower or Scientology. With a sarcastic smile painting my face I turned the book on its back I read some magnificent expressions such as: "journalistic account","russian","comic novelists", "road trip", "1935". It was enough. I immediately started salivating just like a Pavlov's dog and I hold the book in my sweated hands caressing it like a cat.

Then for the next three months the book flirted with dust in my room.
But I couldn't forget it. Thus, in a rainy Sunday afternoon, I blew away the dust from his frontpage intoxicating my flatmate and begin to read the Ilf & Petrov's adventures in US.

This book is astonishing. It's not only about its uniqueness. It's about its unresistable humour, its wit, its elegant style, its extremely careful way of observing something that doesn't exist anymore. The two Soviet writers visit the US a few years after the Great Depression without even naming it but making a portrait of a country where everything works, where people are helpful and talkative without being arrogant, where social welfare is making miracles.

At the same time they're extremely realist to show an America where virtues rhymes with vices. This has very much to do with the total lack of curiosity for what is outside the US borders or for the boring similarity of thousands of small towns where you can always choose among three kind of breakfasts, sleeping in the same furnished "camps" (motels have to come), watching the same brainless movies at the cinema.

But you can't miss this book for many other reasons too. Historical ones, for instance. Travelling coast to coast from NYC to Los Angeles and then backwards on their old "noble grey mouse colored" car. the two Russian writers meet Ernest Hemingway and Henry Ford, Bette Davis and Upton Sinclair. They visit General Electric factory and Carlsbad caves, they are introduced to Navahos and walk on the suspended gigantic wires of a still under construction Golden Gate Bridge. They picture an exhilarating description of a football match in San Francisco and are disgusted by a corrida in Juarez, Mexico. And at the same time Ilf & Petrov make an extremely accurate social and economic account of the US, being able to foretell the clockwork mechanism that recently leads to the subprime crisis.

Moreover, I'm sure you will never forget such interesting chaperons like Mr & Mrs Adams who drove the car through the US and represent very well with their way of speaking and behaving the compendium of Ilf & Petrov humouristic side. A sense of humour masterfully built without any trivial aspect but based on cultural influences, interest for everything and a touch of Jerome K. Jerome.

*Don't ask me why in 1947 the Italian translators chose this title. Ilf & Petrov, indeed, talk about US like "God's country" in one of the chapters, but that's not enough to justify this weird choice.

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