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Collected Stories (Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Isaac Babel , W. Morrison


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Book Description

28 Feb 1974 Modern Classics
The collected stories of Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel. A protege of Maxim Gorky, Babel served in a revolutionary cossack regiment and later came to be regarded as a leading proletarian writer. Arrested in 1937, he died two years later in a concentration camp.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New impression edition (28 Feb 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140015221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140015225
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 11.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 521,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Isaac Babel died in a Soviet gulag in 1941. Peter Constantine won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize for his translation of Thomas Mann. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Although our little town is not large, although its inhabitants are few, although Shyloyme had lived for sixty years in the town without a break, even so, not everyone would be able to tell you who Syloyme is, or what he is like. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The excellence of understatement 14 Jan 2001
By "innocents" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I stumbled across Isaac Babel because of a single line quoted in Paul Johnson's "History of the Jews". And then I was forever hooked.
First, a caveat. Be sure you understand when reading Babel's short stories that you are not reading his autobiography or journal. He did in fact listen to our creative writing teachers; he wrote what he knew. He knew the Russian revolution. He knew the Cossacks. He knew war. He knew living inside and outside the pale. His world jumps off the page because he lived it first.
The stories contain autobiographical material, actively mixed with the yeast of fiction. Use this aspect of his writing to chase rabbits. Follow up this book with his biography or find out more about the Russian revolution. Both of those topics will make more sense after reading his collected stories.
As a writer, I stand in awe of Babel's stingy use of words. Some scenes are so hugely horrible that I would have been tempted to throw in appropriate adverbs and adjectives in an attempt to convince you, my reader, just how hugely horrible it really was. Babel simply tells the story, and you gasp when you are done, horrified when you peak through the keyhole (and I would have blasted a hole in the wall).
When you read Babel, you must be willing to go at the stories with an open mind, not expecting him to flatten the Commies, defend the Jews, or paint the picture the way you want him to. He will not do that, no matter how many times you try to make it so. You will hear no overtones of right or wrong, get no definitive answers about the people on either side of the Russian revolution.
For that, I am most grateful to Isaac Babel. Nothing about our world can be easily distilled into sharp black and white. His stories give us the real world in astounding color.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contains a Masterpiece 19 Jun 2000
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Red Cavalry story sequence is one of the great works of 20th century literature. It is reportedly based on Babel's experience as a Commissar in the Red Army during the post-revolutionary invasion of Poland. Babel's autobiographical narrator reflects profound ambivalence. An urban Jew and intellectual serving with peasant Cossack soldiers whose conduct would have been normative during the 30 Years War, Babel's narrator exemplifies and documents the profound contradictions of the Russian Civil War and revolutionary effort. The stories contain multiple scenes of great power, horror, and punishing irony. Other reviewers, see below, have commented on the unpleasant nature of these stories. These reactions are a tribute to Babel's capacity as a writer. Why should we expect anything pleasant from this subject? This work is intended to be profoundly disturbing. Babel aimed to show clearly some of the horror of his time and did so in a way that no factual chronicler can equal.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short Story Master Stakes Claim to History 12 Feb 2005
By Yan Timanovsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Reading Babel is no picnic in the park. His words are often hard to understand, let alone relish. In Red Cavalry, as he evokes heartrending scenes of torture, deprivation, and corruption, it is often hard to read without almost begging the author for a point of view, a call to arms. Yet in his sharp, vivid--yet terse, accounts (somewhat naturalistic as characters succumb to the hideous corollaries of civil stife--hunger, unbridled violence, senseless cruelty, inhumanity) his compact, frugal stories are never sentetious or tendetious.

The Odessa Tales, the second part of his ouevre, is nearer and dearer to my heart. Immediately, I fell in love with a rabbi's narration of mythical gangster hero Benya Krik. Benya, a Jewish thug with a code of values, who no doubt has the power to empower the young minds of Jewish boys, commands respect as a charismatic desperado, so alien to the preconceptions of Jews as victims and middle-class pushovers, always dependent on the mercy of the ruling elite. Benya wends his way around authorities--whether monarchist or Bolshevik, not only marching to the beat of a different drum, but subjugating others to the beat. Scenes of Odessa, my hometown, are sumptuous though sparing in descriptions of wealthy and lowly merchants, sailors, criminals, and lackeys.

Having read these and other stories in Russian, I look forward to reading the translation in hopes of better understanding them in my adopted tongue. Babel is not the most facile read, but an important and long ignored voice in the Soviet literary canon. Enjoy.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staggeringly powerful, beautifully written 29 Oct 2000
By Dave Shickle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The frightfully ugly picture on the cover of this edition (what in the world were the publishers thinking?) might keep a lot of people away, but the few brave souls that look inside will find one of the great 20th century craftsmen of prose. I can't think of another writer than chooses his words more carefully, that can pack more into a single sentence. "Pierced by the flashes of the bombardment, night arches over the dying man." Single words can take your breath away - the choice of "arches" is the one that does it for me - but you'll probably have others. The brutality of the world he describes may seem foreign, but it never becomes oppressive, mainly because the writing is so good. The stories themselves are rather difficult to love - there is very little hope to latch on to, there are very few characters one can feel close to; there are very few real characters at all, except the narrator. Even under these horrific circumstances, though, Babel creates emotions than one can identify with - pride, love, lust, anger. He has a thorough understanding of human character. It is apparent that the circumstances of war don't create new emotions, they just amplify things we feel anyway.
This book is a necessary read for anyone that wants to learn how to write poetically without being florid, compress pages of description into a few words. This compression is one of the reasons that the stories stay in mind long after they've been read. Buy the book - or get the other edition in a used book store, so you don't have to look at that awful picture.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book 27 April 2001
By Frequent Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
A superbly written insider's look at the Russian revolution. Babel can convey the horrors of war with very few words. I enjoyed the best his sarcastic treatement of the bombastic communist rhetoric in such stories as "Salt" and "Treason" (maybe because I was exposed to it myself at one time).
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