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Babel, Isaac (Emmanuilovich)

jewish odessa red

Babel, Isaac (Emmanuilovich)

(Soviet, 1894–1940)

A short-story writer, born to assimilated, middle-class Jewish parents in Odessa, Babel wrote erotic fiction whilst translating for Lenin's secret police. His most famous work, Red Cavalry (1923–5), came from his experience as a war correspondent. It's a series of brief prose snapshots of the Russo-Polish conflict of 1920. Babel was attached to the notoriously anti-Semitic Red Cossacks and the ambiguous attitude of the narrator to the Jewish characters reflects Babel's own cultural divisions. The fascinating (and often brutal) subject matter is frequently obscured by an elliptical style that strains for poetic effect. Start with his later, sparer, and more traditionally narrative Autobiographical Stories (1925–37), about pogroms, childhood, and growing up in a richly imagined Tsarist Odessa. Babel was executed in one of Stalin's last purges, after years of circumspect literary silence.

Mikhail Sholokhov, Stephen Crane.

See RUSSIA  MH

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