Booklist, October 2006

Read more about Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip, here

Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Perov are the foremost comic novelists of the early Soviet Union. Their The Twelve Chairs was never suppressed, and in 1970 Mel Brooks made one of his earliest hit movies out of it. Their popularity and doctrinal orthodoxy helped them land an assignment for a series of articles about the real America, illustrated by photos Ilf snapped with a new Leica. Starting out from New York City in late November 1935, they drove to Chicago and then in a southerly circuit through Missouri and the Southwest, up to San Francisco and back via southern Texas and the Gulf and tidewater coasts to Manhattan after New Year’s. They gawked and got bored, picked up hitchhikers, palavered when they could (they were stunned by Americans’ incuriosity about them), swallowed a couple of stretchers, and reported everything in 11 loosely thematic pieces whose prose is clean as a whistle and much more ingenuous. Ilf’s pictures, reproduced from the best available sources (the negatives have vanished), are reminiscent of the Farm Security Administration photos of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and company, but they’re literally artless, just snapshots, really. Impeccably translated, edited, and introduced , and supplemented by artist Aleksandr Rodchenko’s prepublication assessment of the original photos and remarks by Ilf’s daughter, Aleksandra, this is riveting, fresh-eyed Americana and “how d’you say?” Sovietana?