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Summary and book reviews of Red Plenty by Francis Spufford

Red Plenty

by Francis Spufford

Red Plenty
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

Paperback original

Chapter One
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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (772 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Extensively researched and both convincing and compelling in its idiosyncrasies (despite the author's admission that he speaks no Russian), this genre-bending book surprises in many ways.

Library Journal

Recommended for history and fiction readers with a taste for dystopian works like 1984 and for sweeping novels like those by Theodore Dreiser.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A highly creative, illuminating, genre-resisting history.


A hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville, with central committees replacing country music... [Spufford] has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

A virtuoso piece of storytelling, a series of vividly imagined episodes – by turns funny, poignant, spine-chilling and warm – that conjure up a richly detailed world... A thrilling book that all enthusiasts of the Big State should read.

The Guardian (UK)

Spufford has long had a somewhat eclectic interest in the interactions of science, technology and society, as evidenced by Backroom Boys, his tales of post-1945 British 'boffins', and he has certainly done his homework here. It isn't every work of historical faction that is backed up by 70 pages of footnotes, references and sources.

The Independent (UK)

Style judgements are highly subjective, but the mixture of the historical and fictitious became irritating. To give Spufford his due, his 50 pages of painstaking notes clarify what is documented fact and what fiction. But the coexistence of the two, the invention of episodes and meetings, the transfer of historical events from one place and time to another, poses a fundamental question about what this book intends to be: history or fiction?

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Akademgorodok

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.

Aerophoto of Akademgorodok 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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