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The Complete Works of Isaac Babel
by Isaac Babel
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393328244, Paperback)Arguably the best book of short stories published in 2001, The Complete Works of Isaac Babel, expertly translated by Peter Constantine, should affirm Babel's place among the top Russian short story writers. Like Chekhov, Isaac Babel primarily wrote odd, tightly wrung little stories in which he displays a variety of convincing styles and tones, with each piece having an immediacy and weight that exceeds its brevity.
Babel's writing life lasted approximately 20 years. (He was executed by Stalin after a few military subjects unflatteringly portrayed in his "Red Cavalry" stories gained positions of influence.) His most notable stories depict the Russian civil war and Jewish soldiers, his childhood, and Jewish thugs in his native Odessa. Often journalistic in style, his stories provided gripping war accounts to Russians eager for news from the front, as in this passage from "The Church in Novograd":
We drank rum, waiting for the military commissar, but he still hadn't come back from the headquarters. Romuald had collapsed in a corner and fallen asleep. He slept and quivered, while beyond the window an alley seeped into the garden beneath the black passion of the sky. Thirsting roses swayed in the darkness. Green lightning bolts blazed over the cupolas. A naked corpse lay on the embankment. And the rays of the moon streamed through the dead legs that are pointing upward. So this is Poland...This collection is a delight for its organization: the stories are grouped by periods, feature introductions, and include helpful maps. The preface and afterward by his daughter and editor, Nathalie Babel, are insightful. Also included are two plays, several screenplays, a chronology, and an introduction by Cynthia Ozick. The Complete Works of Isaac Babel should be a welcome addition to readers of literature everywhere. --Michael Ferch
(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 22 Apr 2011 13:22:00 -0400)
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