Strange as it may seem, the gray, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale. It was built on the twentieth-century magic called “the planned economy,” which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working. Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan and every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche. It’s about the scientists who did their genuinely brilliant best to make the dream come true, to give the tyranny its happy ending.
Red Plenty is history, it’s fiction, it’s as ambitious as Sputnik, as uncompromising as an Aeroflot flight attendant, and as different from what you were expecting as a glass of Soviet champagne.
About Francis Spufford
Francis Spufford is the author of The Child That Books Built and two other books. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches writing at Goldsmiths College and lives near Cambridge.
Spufford (I May Be Some Time, 2003, etc.) traces the latter half of the history of the Soviet Union, starting in the late 1950s, when the Soviets were seeing an imaginary light over the horizon. After 40 years that included struggle, war, starvation and Stalin, the Marxist dream looked as if it might be taking off under Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviet Union’s economic growth more than doubled that of the United States, and if it kept going at the same rate the “planned economy” would “overtake and surpass” capitalist America. Cars, food and houses would be better, and there would be more money and leisure all around, thanks to a top-down, start-to-finish management that “could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfillment of human needs.” Through a series of episodes involving economists, scientists, computer programmers, industrialists, artists and politicians—some real, some imagined, some drawn together from composites—Spufford tells the story of the life and death of a national illusion, as utopian dreams moldered into grim dystopian realities. The planned economy was a worker’s nightmare, where production targets increased even as equipment became more and more outdated, and unforeseen, unplanned events—like the sudden loss of a spinning machine at a textile factory—set off a ripple effect of unproductiveness. Pay cuts and scarce commodities led to riots, such as one in Novocherkassk, where the dead bodies were hauled out and the bloody streets were repaved overnight. In his often-whimsical, somewhat Nabokovian notes, Spufford freely points out his own inventions, approximations and hedged bets on what might have happened. – Kirkus Reviews
The Soviet Goose That Laid Golden Eggs - ‘Red Plenty,’ by Francis Spufford, About Soviet Russia
The New York Times Book Review – February 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
Any reader with a pencil has a dozen ways to express negative sentiment in the margins of a book — I am partial to ick, ack, awk, ugh and the occasional wha? — but a writer’s great sentences, in their bid for posterity, mostly just get underlined. At the end of the first chapter of Francis Spufford’s “Red Plenty,” however, I printed a nerdy but heartfelt word: “Bravo.” I felt like giving the author a little bow, or maybe a one-man standing O.
“Red Plenty” is not a book to which one brings great expectations. It’s about Soviet Russia in the 1950s and ’60s, a gray topic, prechewed by many others. Mr. Spufford tries to shoo away readers, too, in his introduction. That’s where he explains that his book is not quite history and not quite fiction but something in between, a mongrel narrative in which an “idea is the hero.” Those four words can make you scan for the exit signs.
The idea that underpins “Red Plenty” is an economic one. This book is about the old sunny Soviet fairy tale, the notion that a planned economy would become, in Mr. Spufford’s memorable phrase, “its own self-victualling tablecloth.” His book is about the era when Russians really thought their version of Communism would make them the richest and happiest and most unfettered people in the world.
“Humanity’s ancient condition of scarcity was going to end, imminently,” Mr. Spufford writes. “Everyone was going to climb the cabbage stalk, scramble through the hole in the sky, and arrive in the land where millstones revolved all by themselves.” [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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