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Valentin Kataev: Растратчики (The Embezzlers)

This is a witty but straightforward satire on Soviet Russia of the NEP period. During this period, Russia flirted with capitalism because the economy of the country was in such a disastrous state. Former capitalists suddenly re-emerged and took control. It is these people that Kataev is in part satirising but, more so, he satirises the Soviet officials of the period. The”hero”, if that is the right word, is Filipp Stephanovich Prokhorov, the chief accountant of a new Soviet firm. There seems to be an epidemic of embezzlement from the firms in the area so Filipp Stephanovich is very careful when he has to handle a large sum of money and is accompanied by his assistant Vanechka. However, he is soon accosted by Nikita, a junior employee, who has a power of attorney for both his pay and that of the cleaning woman, fearing that if they do not get their money right away they won’t get it at all. Nikita’s ploy fails but it seems to put an idea in Filipp Stephanovich’s head. Soon, he and Nikita are off on a picaresque journey looking for high society, a journey that takes them to Leningrad and Vanechka’s home town (that he has not visited for ten years) and a rendezvous with the rapacious Isabella, eager to get her hands on the money they have. It’s all hilarious fun as Kataev mocks Soviet officials, the failure of the New Economic Policy and various Russian characters and their weaknesses. If you thought Soviet literature was all grim stuff about the wonders of machines, this is the book for you.

Publishing history

First published 1927 by Federatsia
First published in English by Ernest Benn (UK) and Dial Press (US) Press in 1929
Translated by Charles Rougle