Il’f, Il’ia Arnol’dovich and Petrov, Evgeny Petrovich By Fisher, Anne O.
The writing duo collectively known as “Il’f and Petrov” is best known for two early Soviet satirical novels featuring the wisecracking con artist Ostap Bender, The Twelve Chairs (Dvenadtsat’ stul’ev, 1928) and The Little Golden Calf (Zolotoi telenok, 1931). They also collaborated on screenplays, short stories, essays, novellas, newspaper columns, and an American travelogue, as well as publishing individually. Both the Russian Orthodox Petrov and the Jewish Il’f were born and raised in the cosmopolitan port city of Odessa, renowned for its humor and vibrant Jewish culture. After enduring World War I and civil war in “hungry Odessa,” both moved independently to Moscow in 1923 and wrote for humorous publications, including the newspaper Gudok (The Steam Whistle) along with Petrov’s brother Valentin Kataev, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Yuri Olesha. After the success of their Bender novels, they started writing for Pravda in 1932, which sent them to travel the United States by car in the winter of 1935–6, resulting in the travelogue One-Story America (Odnoetazhnaia Amerika, 1937). Their art’s ironic quotation and ambivalent intertextuality deeply influenced Russian everyday and literary language. Il’f died in Moscow in 1937 of tuberculosis. Petrov continued to write and became a war correspondent during World War II; he died in a plane crash outside Sevastopol in 1942.