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.
The Prodigy, 1938
A tram was coming, squealing metal against metal, throwing blue-white sparks into the winter dark. Without thinking about it, Leonid Vitalevich lent his increment of shove to the jostling crowd, and was lifted with the rest of the collectivity over the rear step and into the cram of human flesh behind the concertina door. 'C'mon citizens, push up!' said a short woman next to him, as if they had a choice about it, as if they could decide to move or not, when everyone inside a Leningrad tram was locked in the struggle to get from the entry door at the back to the exit at the front by the time their stop came around. Yet the social miracle took place: somewhere at the far end a small mob of passengers burped out onto the roadway, and a squeezing ripple travelled down the car, a tram-peristalsis propelled by shoulders and elbows, creating just enough space to press into before the door closed. The yellow bulbs overhead flickered, and the tram rocked away ...
Since the author's overarching focus is on the collapse of the Soviet planned economy, the book contains a fair amount of economic theory. The first chapter is pretty difficult to get through, but stick with it - the novel is fantastic, and Spufford's creative narrative device is a winner. None of his writing is dry or boring - Spufford couches these theories and history lessons wonderfully through his characters' stories - however there are portions that require careful reading.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1072 words).
One of the most fascinating byproducts of the Russian planned economy is the academic town of Akademgorodok (Ah-kah-DYEM-gor-oh-dok) in Siberia. It is approximately 30 kilometers south of the larger Siberian city of Novosibirsk (No-VO-see-beersk), and is the setting for some of Red Plenty's most riviting stories, featuring a genetics and cytology researcher named Zoya Veynshteyn.
Looking to populate Siberia and avoid the bureaucratic interference of Moscow, while creating a haven for the sciences at the same time, Russian premier Nikita Kruschev supported the creation of Akademgorodok (aka Academy Town) in 1958 as a part of the network of research centers known as the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Hydrodynamicist Mikhail Alexeyevich ...
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