Before there was Borat…

Sorry, Borat, but two sassy Soviet Russians beat you to it. Just published for the first time ever in English, Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip is a lost treasure: the actual 1935 travelogue of two satirical writers who were sent to our land for two months to drive cross-country on assignment for Pravda, the official Communist daily paper for most of the 20th century.

It’s a cool, strange artifact, but it’s also simply a hoot; Ilf and Petrov are dry and pithy. “We didn’t hear a single gunshot in New York,” they write, “but we feel that at the entrance to the city, they need to hang up big signs saying, ‘Shooting Here.’ That’s the impression you get.”

Unlike Borat, they’re not boors; they’re shocked by the “shameful poverty of the villages of the black South.” These guys are wise wiseacres — as seen, particularly, in the “Hollywood” chapter. Seriously, much of it could have been written yesterday. For instance: “Each kind of movie has only one plot, with endless and excruciating variations. So year in and year out, American audiences are actually watching the same thing.”

“>READ “Hollywood,” a sample chapter from Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip

“>BUY Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip (158 pages, with dozens of black-and-white photographs shot by Ilf)

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Before there was Borat…