It’s funny, if somewhat scary, how when you’re a kid you don’t really see even explicit political propaganda in your favourite books. When I was five, or seven, or whatever I was when I read The Three Fat Men for the first time, it was, to me, a book about brave little dancer Suok and romantic Heir Tutti and smart Doctor Gaspar. Now it is unmistakably a book about Revolution and Class Struggle, its real main characters.
Set in a fictional, magical Italian-type world, the tale tells of a revolution in a country that is ruled by a greedy and immoral aristocracy (that indulges opulently while the populace starves) headed by the Three Fat Men. The men have a young boy Tutti who they are raising as their heir. To make him cruel they forbid contact with children allowing him only a doll for a companion and they build a zoo with wild animals so that he learns cruelty.
The book begins with the capture and encagement of the revolutionary Prospero and the breaking of Tutti’s doll. Enter the elderly Dr Gaspar and a bunch of ordinary extraordinary people whose lives are brought together in this crucial moment in the life of the country.
What remains unchanged though is that this tale is written extremely well and moreover with this edition, translated beautifully. Olesha has a great sense of language and his unexpected and witty metaphors cracked me up more than once – I doubt I noticed all these small details as a child. The translation helps you understand these nuances for sure. Even though the plot is rather simplistic, the language and the illustrations make me think that The Three Fat Men wasn’t really aimed at children. Or, at least, not only at children.
Having said this this, it is definitely a must read, if you need the biting sarcasm and underlying tones of revolutionary spirit.