Isaac Babel was a Russian Jewish writer who wrote his most famous works -- all short stories -- under the Soviet regime in the 1920s. He was tragically killed during the Stalin purges of the late 1930s. His work is unique from so many perspectives: he was a Jew, but he did not live in the Pale or write in Yiddish (he was a modern, secular Jew how lived in Odessa and wrote in Russian); he fought in the Red Army in the Russian Revolution, became disillusioned, but never left Russia; he wrote only short works such as short stories in screen plays.
In this one volume, his daughter has collected every available work that he ever wrote. While there were many manuscripts that were destroyed when Babel was purged, this will stand as his complete works, all recently translated.
In addition to Babel's own writings, there are wonderful introductions from Cynthia Ozick, the translator Peter Constantine and Babel's daughter, Nathalie Babel. Ms. Babel also includes, as an afterward, a wonderful memoir of how she came to produce this work, starting with the gripping tale of her and her mother's life in France during WWII. Also included is a timeline of Babel's life. These materials alone make for fascinating reading as you dip into Babel's literary works.
Of course, it is Babel's short stories that are the star attraction. There are three main collections, the Odessa stories, which tell the tales of Russian Jewish thugs living in a district in Odessa, the Red Cavelry stories, which are based on Babel's experiences in the Red Army in the Russian Revolution, and the Dovecote stories, which are autobiographical tales of Babel's youth. The stories are all lean and sparsely written with a biting irony that attacks all facets of Russian life.
This is not a book one is likely to or needs to read from cover to cover at one time. It is, however, perfectly designed to let one slowly absorb this great writer as you dip into this over time.