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The first part of a satirical duology by Ilia Ilf and Eugeny Petrov.
In post-civil war Soviet Russia, a former member of nobility, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, works as a desk clerk, until his mother-in-law reveals on her deathbed that her family jewelry had been hidden from the Bolsheviks in one of the twelve chairs from the family's dining room set. Those chairs, along with all other personal property, had been expropriated by the government after the Russian Revolution. He becomes a treasure hunter, and after the smooth operator and Con Man Ostap Bender forces Kisa ("Kitty", Vorobyaninov's funny childhood nickname, which Bender prefers) to partner with him, they set off to track down the chairs. This ultimately helps Kisa, who doesn't possess Bender's charm and is not as street-smart.
The two "comrades" nearly get the prize at the auction, but because Kisa screwed up and squandered all their cash, the chair set is split up and sold individually. They are not alone in this quest, either: Father Fyodor took advantage of the deathbed confession, and has also set off to recover the fortune. In this search for Mme Petukhova's treasure, he becomes Vorobyaninov's main rival. While in this enterprise Ostap is in his element, Vorobyaninov is not so happy. He's steadily abandoning his principles and losing self-esteem.
One of the best and most enduring Russian literature works from the Soviet era, and an inexhaustible source of great quotes along with its sequel, The Little Golden Calf.
Mel Brooks directed an adaptation in 1970. Two different Russian adaptations have created a bit of a Broken Base amongst the Russian viewers. The main point of contention is whether Andrei Mironov's interpretation of Bender as less of a Lovable Rogue and more of a Villain Protagonist works.
This book features examples of:
- Ambiguously Jewish: There are some reasons to believe Bender is of Jewish descent.
- Unfortunate Implications regarding his con-man tendencies if that is the case.
- Also, his Odessa roots (a very Jewish city) and his claim of being the son of one Turkish subject (Jews often used foreign passports, especially readily available Turkish papers, as foreign nationality would change their ethnicity to Turk in legal documents).
- Ascended Extra: Bender himself was intended as a one-scene character, but became a One-Scene Wonder for the authors and had immediately stolen the spotlight.
- Brainless Beauty: Ellochka. Her vocabulary is thirty words large.
- Butt Monkey: Kisa Vorobyaninov goes from one humiliation to another. Also Father Fyodor to some extent.
- Catch Phrase: Bender's The hearing is continued! ("Заседание продолжается!")
- Also, The ice has broken! ("Лед тронулся!")
- The Charmer: Bender again.
- The Chessmaster: Bender refers to himself as "The Great Combinator". The narration agrees.
- Not literally, though. His skill at chess is miserable, that's why his "World Chess Tournament" con quickly went sour.
- Con Man: Bender.
- Convulsive Seizures
- Corrupt Church: Father Fyodor. The catholic monks in the sequel also qualify, according to Bender.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bender.
- Did Not Do the Research: Poet Lapis-Trubetskoy, in-universe. No, Lapis, jackals are not shaped like a snakes!
- Downer Ending: And how.
- Indy Ploy: Another side of Ostap Bender's "The Great Combinator" persona. He is incredibly adept at inventing new scams on the fly and getting out of trouble with quick thinking.
- Karma Houdini: Alchen, the most despicable character in the book.
- Lovable Rogue: Bender.
- MacGuffin: The chair set.
- A MacGuffin Full of Money: of very expensive jewelry, to be precise.
- Meaningful Name: Town named Stargorod (literally "Oldtown").
- Bender tries to play this on real life Proval resort ("The Fall", may be freely translated as "The Pit", not to be mistranslated as "The FAIL", please) by shaking tips out from random bypassers:
Bender: That's for the reconstruction of Proval, so it wouldn't fall down.
- My Hair Came Out Green: One of the protagonists tries to dye his hair and eyebrows and mustache a darker colour, but the dye is counterfeit and ends up turning him a rabid green colour. The poor sod ends up having to shave his head completely devoid of hair.
- Naked People Trapped Outside: happened to engineer Shukin.
- Noblewoman's Laugh: Ellochka, in a slightly milder variant. Ho-ho.
- Those Two Actors: Mironov and Papanov duo in one of the adaptations
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Kisa Vorobyaninov
- Unknown Rival: Turned Up to Eleven with Ellochka Schukina and her ridiculous "rivalry" with Consuelo Vanderbilt.