The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Good N’ Red Plenty


February 11, 2011

Henry Farrell mentions Francis Spufford’s new book Red Plenty. Before proceeding, you should know three things:

  1. I have no connection, social or otherwise, with Francis Spufford.
  2. I am a philistine made almost incapable of reading literary fiction by years of journal articles and serious journalism.
  3. I am in no way an expert in any aspect of Soviet culture, politics, or history.

Bearing these facts in mind, let me give the book my highest recommendation. A colleague brought back a copy from the UK at my request, so I’ve read the book well in advance of its American release (which has still not taken place).

It is by far the best novel I have ever read about the Soviet nomenklatura, about the management of a planned economy, and about the transition from the excitement of the Khrushchev years to the Brezhnev stagnation. That obviously undersells the book’s real strengths, which is to attempt to suggest the excitement of building socialism and the stench of its decay. And it is not quite a novel–more a documentary, or even better a much more scrupulously accurate biopic. (In the film version, expect Colin Firth to play the part of the planned economy.)

Whatever it is, it is well worth your time, and certainly worth the price of admission.

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