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The charming con-artist hero of the novels "Dwenadsat Stulyev" (Twelve Chairs) and "Zolotoy Telyonok" (The Golden Calf) by Russians Ilya Ilf and Evgeniy Petroff.

Famous for lines like

"When I was a boy, we used to kill people like you on sight. With a slingshot."

"Well, looks like I failed at being the Count of Monte Cristo. Time to requalify as a janitor."

"Ah, morning. It's really the best time to rob little towns like this one."

and countless others.

The two novels, the English translations of which are good but hard to find, are brilliantly funny, at least to a Russian temperament. But they are also insightful, and sad.

Bender is an orphan, just under 30 or so years old, who has grown up a genius crook in early Soviet Russia. The exploits described in the novels take place in the late 20s and early 30s. Bender schemes his way through the upbeat, yet already crooked provincial and Moscow society of the time of Soviet optimism. He is eternally tired of the small prizes and small challenges that small con artistry offers him, and is always willing to plunge himself into chess-like High Stakes games.

He oozes irony and tends to speak in a deliberately sarcastic high-falutin' mock-epic manner. He tends to be forced by circumstances (and for the sake of comedy) to associate himself with foolish, inept sidekicks, whom he berates constantly. He is tremendously ambitious and almost entirely cold-hearted, but does show an occasional flare of kindness.

To appreciate him, one must read about him. He is the kind of person who one would never want to hang out with, but whom it's nice to watch from a distance. Trust me, I know. My father grew up reading the two Ostap Bender novels, and modeled himself after Bender to a great degree: including Benderian character traits like coldness, sarcasm, irony (an almost sadistic manner of talking), ambition, and disdain for those whose perceptions and wits are not up to his level.

Ostap Bender is not a real person, but he is one of those literary characters that might as well be.

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