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Isaac Babel (1894–1940)

Author of Collected Stories

192+ Works 3,785 Members 72 Reviews 25 Favorited

About the Author

Isaac Babel was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1894. He won early success with stories about his native Odessa and about the exploits of the Bolshevik cavalry in the Polish campaign of 1920-21. During the 1930s his output was small, but his talent remained undiminished. He was arrested in May 1939 show more during the Great Purge, and his manuscripts were confiscated. His exact fate remains unknown. Although Babel's reputation was restored in 1956, he was still published only occasionally in the Soviet Union-the very strong Jewish element in his stories, as well as the ambiguous positions he took on war and revolution, made his stories uncomfortable for Soviet authorities. For a Russian reader, the Odessa Tales (1916) are particularly exotic. Their protagonists, members of the city's Jewish underworld, are presented in romantic, epic terms. The Red Cavalry stories are noted for their account of the horrors of war. In both cycles Babel relies on precisely constructed short plots, on paradox of situation and of character response, and on nonstandard, captivating language-be it the combination of Yiddish, slang, and standard Russian in the Odessa Tales or of uneducated Cossack speech and standard Russian in the Red Cavalry cycle. The result of such features is a prose heritage rare in the history of Russian literature. Isaac Babel passed away in 1941. (Bowker Author Biography) Isaac Babel was born on July 13, 1894 in Odessa, Russia, to a middle-class Jewish family. He attended the Institute of Business Studies. His life was filled with persecution, which greatly influenced his writing. During the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution, Babel served as a soldier in Poland. This experience provided him with material for Red Cavalry, a collection of his stories. Later, in the Odessa Tales, published in 1931, Babel drew on his Jewish heritage to create colorful and memorable characters. As with many great artists in Russia, Babel's creative style was unpopular with the Stalin regime. Babel admitted to a long association with Trotskyites, but denied this testimony at his trial. He was ultimately found guilty of espionage and shot in Moscow in 1939, although, nearly a year later, his wife and the general public were told that he died in a labor camp. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery (image use requires permission from the New York Public Library)

Works by Isaac Babel

Collected Stories (1929) 1,053 copies
Red Cavalry (1926) 751 copies
Odessa Tales (1931) 280 copies
1920 diary (1989) 154 copies
You Must Know Everything (1966) 105 copies
Quatre contes russos (2009) 43 copies
The Golden Age of Soviet Theatre (Penguin Classics) (1990) — Contributor — 39 copies
The Essential Fictions (2017) 14 copies
Toneel 13 copies
Избранное (1983) 13 copies
Odessa (1967) 11 copies
How It Was Done in Odessa (2002) 8 copies
Maria: uma Peça e Cinco Histórias (2003) — Author — 8 copies
Benya Krik (1948) 8 copies
Stelle erranti 7 copies
Dziennik 1920 (1990) 5 copies
Iszaak Babel művei (1986) 4 copies
Traonto (1991) 4 copies
Prosa (1983) 4 copies
Historia jednego konia (1988) 3 copies
Vremenu i sebi (1967) 3 copies
Mes premiers honoraires (1972) 3 copies
The forgotten prose (1978) 3 copies
Odessa Stories (1931) 2 copies
Utwory wybrane 2 copies
Guy de Maupassant (1935) 2 copies
Journal pétersbourgeois (2013) 2 copies
Isaak Babel. Izbrannoe (2000) 2 copies
Konarmia ; Dziennik 1920 (1999) 2 copies
My First Goose 2 copies
Nello scantinato (2006) 2 copies
Rusia. Volumen 2 — Contributor — 2 copies
Odessa stories 2 copies
Odessa (2019) 2 copies
Sumrak (1979) 1 copy
El despertar 1 copy
オデッサ物語 (1995) 1 copy
Prosa 1 copy
Babel Isaac 1 copy
Rytterarmeen (2023) 1 copy
Odesskie rasskazy (2014) 1 copy
Werke : Zweiter Band (1973) 1 copy
Werke : Erster Band (1973) 1 copy
caballeria roja (2011) 1 copy
Benya Krik 1 copy
Lyubka the Cossack (1963) 1 copy
Peterburg 1918 (1989) 1 copy
A Letter 1 copy
Zwei Welten (1960) 1 copy
Die traurige Strasse : (1965) 1 copy
Nouvelles 1 copy
L'armata a cavallo (2001) 1 copy
Caballería roja (1901) 1 copy
El Despertar 1 copy

Associated Works

The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction (1983) — Contributor — 1,124 copies
My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead (2008) — Contributor — 760 copies
The World of the Short Story: A 20th Century Collection (1986) — Contributor — 459 copies
The Penguin Book of War (1999) — Contributor — 449 copies
Best Short Stories of the Modern Age (1962) — Contributor, some editions — 333 copies
Great Jewish Short Stories (1963) — Author, some editions — 239 copies
Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (2005) — Contributor — 223 copies
Sudden Fiction International: Sixty Short-Short Stories (1989) — Contributor — 212 copies
Randall Jarrell's Book of Stories (1958) — Contributor — 142 copies
Sudden Fiction (Continued): 60 New Short-Short Stories (1996) — Contributor — 132 copies
The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998) — Contributor — 127 copies
The Jewish caravan : great stories of twenty-five centuries (1935) — Contributor, some editions — 127 copies
Great Modern European Short Stories (1969) — Contributor — 112 copies
Magical Realist Fiction: An Anthology (1984) — Contributor — 111 copies
Great Soviet Short Stories (1962) — Contributor — 76 copies
A golden treasury of Jewish literature (1937) — Contributor — 74 copies
Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists (2003) — Contributor — 51 copies
Modern Jewish stories (1963) — Contributor — 36 copies
Escape: Stories of Getting Away (2002) — Contributor — 26 copies
One World of Literature (1992) — Contributor — 24 copies
Studies in Fiction (1965) — Contributor — 22 copies
Horse Stories (2012) — Contributor — 15 copies
14 Great Short Stories By Soviet Authors (1959) — Contributor — 15 copies
Russische liefdesverhalen (1961) — Author — 11 copies
Russische verhalen (1965) — Contributor — 11 copies
Penguin Modern Stories 4 (1970) — Contributor — 7 copies
Moderne joodse verhalen (1964) — Contributor — 7 copies
De 43ste april : zeven verhalen op één thema (1961) — Contributor — 6 copies
Het derde Testament : Joodse verhalen (1995) — Contributor, some editions — 6 copies
The Noble Savage 3 (1961) — Contributor — 5 copies
Skaz: Masters of Russian Storytelling (2014) — Contributor — 5 copies
Prachtig weer verhalen (1994) — Contributor — 3 copies
Russland das große Lesebuch (2017) — Contributor — 2 copies
50 seltsame Geschichten — Contributor — 1 copy
現代ソヴェト文学18人集〈第1〉… (1967) — Author — 1 copy
世界短編名作選〈ソビエト編〉 (1978年) (1978) — Contributor — 1 copy
ロシア短篇24 (現代の世界文学) (1987) — Contributor — 1 copy


20th century (115) anthology (525) Babel (33) books about books (25) classics (41) collection (49) Cossacks (27) diary (26) fiction (993) history (95) Isaac Babel (41) Jewish (78) Jewish literature (37) Judaism (27) librarians (42) libraries (73) library (23) literature (304) love (25) military (38) military history (64) non-fiction (78) own (30) read (48) Russia (226) Russian (185) Russian fiction (32) Russian literature (343) Russian Revolution (25) short fiction (74) short stories (1,132) short story (75) Soviet Union (45) stories (155) textbook (34) to-read (371) translation (49) unread (57) war (60) writing (70)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Babel, Isaac
Legal name
Бабель, Исаак Эммануилович
Other names
Babel, Isaak
Bobel, Isaac Manievich (birth name)
Babel, Isaak Emmanuilovich
Бабель, Исаак Эммануилович
Date of death
Burial location
Donskoi Cemetery, Moscow, Russia [mass grave]
Country (for map)
Odessa, Russian Empire
Place of death
Butyrka prison, Moscow, USSR
Cause of death
Firing squad
Places of residence
Odessa, Russian Empire
St. Petersburg, Russia
Kiev Institute of Finance and Business
literary translator
short story writer
Gorky, Maksim (friend)
Brown, Nathalie Babel (daughter)
Paustovsky, Konstantin (friend)
Short biography
Isaac Babel was born to a Jewish family in Odessa, then part of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine). In 1911, Babel went to study economics and business at the Kiev Institute of Finance and Business Studies, receiving his degree in 1916. While finishing his studies in Kiev, he also enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the Psycho-Neurological Institute in St. Petersburg. At this time, he met Maxim Gorky, who welcomed Babel into a literary career by publishing a selection of his short stories in the November 1916 issue of his journal Letopis (Chronicle). Gorky's mentorship was a major coup for a fledgling author and assured his wider recognition. Babel also became a journalist, playwright, and literary translator. He is best known as the author of the acclaimed collections Red Cavalry (1920s) and Odessa Stories (1921-24). Stalin's Great Terror purges destroyed the lives and careers of many of Babel’s friends, and finally reached Babel himself. He was arrested by the Soviet secret police on May 15, 1939 on fabricated charges of terrorism and espionage, and executed on January 27, 1940.



Povestirile referitoare la războiul cu Polonia (în Ucraina), sunt interesante și zugrăvesc o lume extrem de reală și uluitor de brutală, realismul de-a dreptul naturalist fiind doar ocazional afectat (negativ) de lirism si patetism (genul penibil, de anii 1790). Cele "civile" ar descrie si ele o lume fascinantă si exotică (mahalaua odesită evreiască) dar sunt mult mai grav afectate de "poetism", devenind deseori efectiv neinteligibile.
milosdumbraci | May 5, 2023 |
Short vignette length pieces plucked from chaotic violence, these are dense and powerful glimpses of life at the nearly starved front of early 20th century war.
quondame | 22 other reviews | Mar 20, 2023 |
This Pushkin Press edition brings together all of Isaac Babel’s stories with an Odessa setting, in a new translation by Boris Dralyuk. Dralyuk also provides a helpful introduction which explains the context of the stories and gives insights into his approach to the translation. We learn, for instance, that at the start of the 20th century Odessa had the largest Jewish settlement after New York and Warsaw, counting around 140,000 Jews. The community had also its seamier underworld, largely based in the area of Moldavanka. This part of the city, which Dralyuk compares to London’s Whitechapel or New York’s Lower East Side, led to the development of what one might call Odessa’s “urban folklore”, peopled by gangsters at once reviled for their violence and revered for their roguish charm and peculiar code of honour.

The first part of this volume of stories is entitled “Gangsters and other Old Odessans” and includes tales inspired by this “urban folklore”. They feature recurring characters – such as Benya “the King” Krik, Froim “the Rook” and Lyubka “the Cossack”. I must confess that I did not find these criminals particularly likeable, nor did I warm to their dubious exploits. Whatever my feelings about his protagonists, however, there’s no denying Isaac Babel’s brilliance as a writer. His style is very particular, alternating dark humour with lyrical passages inspired, according to Dralyuk, by the argot of Odessa. It must have been a particular challenge to capture the flow of the originals in this English translation, but Dralyuk manages to do so effectively by drawing, believe it or not, on the style of American pulp fiction contemporary with Babel's stories.

The gangster tales are complemented by a number of autobiographical works, grouped under the title “Childhood and Youth”. These vignettes reflect Babel’s Odessan upbringing, but they are an imaginative interpretation of his childhood impressions, rather than a memoir. You could call it autobiographical fiction, or fictional autobiography - or, to use a current term, auto-fiction. Three pieces which could not be comfortably placed under either of these two sections are placed in a final part - "Loose Leaves and Apocrypha."

This is a collection to read, both for the quality of its stories and for the snapshot it gives of the Jewish community of Odessa at a particular point in time. Here was a world which would soon change forever.
… (more)
JosephCamilleri | 10 other reviews | Feb 21, 2023 |



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Associated Authors

Yevgeny Schwartz Contributor
Borís Pasternak Contributor
Máximo Gorki Contributor
Andrew R. MacAndrew Translator and Afterword
Walter Morison Translator, Editor
Peter Urban Translator
Val Vinokur Editor, Translator
Fritz Mierau Composer, Afterword
Bettina Kaibach Translator
Harry Burck Translator
Heddy Pross-Weerth Translator / Afterword
Cynthia Ozick Introduction
Boris Dralyuk Translator
Froukje Slofstra Translator
Lionel Trilling Introduction
Jacques Catteau Translator
Enric Mir Designer
Staffan Dahl Translator
Michael Dirda Introduction
Monika Zgustová Translator
Oriol Maspons Photographer
H. T. Willetts Translator
Anna Montero Translator
Silvia Serra Translator
José Ardanaz Translator
Victor Kernbach Translator
Julia Pericacho Translator
Gerardo Escodín Translator


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