Andrei Babichev is a paragon of Soviet values, an innovative and practical man, Director of the Food Industry Trust, a man whose vision encompasses such future advances for mankind as the 35-kopeck sausage and the self-peeling potato. Out of kindness, he rescues from the gutter Nikolai Karalerov, violently tossed from a bar after a drunken and self-destructive tirade. But instead of gratitude, Babichev finds himself the subject of an endlessly malignant jealousy, as Kavaelrov sees in him a representative of the new breed of man who has prevented him from realizing his true greatness. A scathing social satire, Envy is a concise and incisive exploration of the paradigmatic conflicts of the early Soviet age: old versus new, imagination versus pragmatism, and the alienation of the romantic artist in the age of technology. Critics as far apart as Gleb Struve ( One of the most interesting and original works in the whole of Soviet literature ) and Pravda ( Olesha's style is masterful, his psychological analysis infinitely subtle, his portrayal of negative characters truly striking ) have praised the novel, and one of the signs of its universality is the fact that it has been claimed by nearly every school of critics and interpreted as everything from a submerged homosexual story to a 20th-century Notes from the Underground."
Yuri Olesha (1899-1960), the son of an impoverished land-owner who spent his days playing cards, grew up in Odessa, a lively multicultural city whose literary scene also included Isaac Babel. Olesha made his name as a writer with Three Fat Men, a proletarian fairy tale, and had an even greater success with Envy in 1927. Soon, however, the ambiguous nature of the novella's depiction of the new revolutionary era led to complaints from high, followed by the collapse of his career and the disappearance of his books. In 1934, Olesha addressed the First Congress of Soviet Writers, arguing that a writer should be allowed the freedom to choose his own style and themes. For the rest of his life he wrote very little. A memoir of his youth, No Day Without a Line, appeared posthumously. Ken Kalfus's most recent book is a novel, The Commissariat of Enlightenment. He is also the author of two short story collections, Thirst and Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.