Red Plenty

Francis Spufford

Graywolf Press




448 Pages


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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.


Praise for Red Plenty

"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 a strong and eccentric book about a beautiful mass delusion, a filigreed vision of a place Mr. Spufford likes to call 'Story Russia.' This Story Russia, he says, 'sent its lively boys to seek the Firebird or to woo the Swan Maiden,' adding: 'The stories dreamed away reality's defects. They made promises good enough to last for one evening of firelight.' His book, unlike the Soviet dream, delivers on every promise. No icks, acks, awks or ughs about it."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"It is part detective story—who or what is killing the Soviet economy?—and part a brilliantly clear explanation of some very intricate history and economics . . . Mr Spufford has a gift for seeing things through others' eyes—and a wonderful eye of his own for comic detail. The book opens, like classic Russian fiction, with a daunting two pages of interchangeable-looking names. But everybody is there for a reason and everybody gets their say. The author has plotted his book with cunning. He gives us the big picture—the cold war, the terror, the thaw, strikes, dissidence, pollution—through personal close-ups. Red Plenty bursts with information. It never drags or lectures . . . Red Plenty has bullet-proofed itself against specialists by its breadth of field and seriousness of purpose."—The Economist

"A hybrid of fiction and history, Red Plenty brilliantly recreates the Soviet Union at this time, when attempts were made by Khrushchev to de-Stalinise the political system and heal cold war antagonisms somewhat. At first glance, however, the book appears to be in narrative disarray, with chapters moving backwards and forwards confusingly in time. The disparate strands gradually converge to form a immensely satisfying work; eccentric in construction, audacious in conception . . . With rarely a dull page, Spufford imparts a wealth of information on such unlikely subjects as Soviet chemical fibre-production, machine-tool specifics and Volga car design. The punctilious descriptions of life in a planned economy are surprisingly fascinating to read, as they combine with the heroics of people both intriguingly real and invented. As a gallimaufry of the funny, technical-scientific and deadly earnest, Red Plenty ranks as one of the strangest books ever written on the Soviet Union. From start to finish, the book is an eccentric delight; absorbing, pleasingly digressive and superbly written."—Ian Thomson, Financial Times

"Spufford, who has succeeded in turning possibly the least promising fictional material of all time into an incredibly smart, surprisingly involving and deeply eccentric book, a hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville, with central committees replacing country music . . . I am not alone in thinking that he has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature."—Nick Hornby, The Believer

"The strange, sad, hilarious story of the Soviet Union's blind pursuit of a Communist paradise, told through a mix of history and fiction, using both to get to the truth . . . A highly creative, illuminating, genre-resisting history."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • 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.