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The Complete Works of Isaac Babel Hardcover – November, 2001

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Library Journal

One of the great Russian writers of the 20th century, Babel (1894-1941) was arrested in 1939 and later executed by Stalin's regime. In 1954, his work was largely republished, but much of his correspondence, drafts, and manuscripts was confiscated when he was arrested and has never resurfaced. Now, for the first time, all of Babel's surviving work has been assembled into one volume. Readers new to Babel will discover his "Red Cavalry" stories, plays, diaries, screenplays, and short stories. In addition to an introduction by Cynthia Ozick, the book is graced with an excellent preface and afterword by Babel's daughter, who also edited the volume. She provides recently uncovered information about her father's arrest and execution as well as personal remembrances. With the publication of this volume of Babel's work, it is hoped that a full-scale biography will follow. Essential for literature collections.
- Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1076 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393048462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393048469
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after stumbling upon one of Babel's army stories from the "Red Cavalry" collection. Babel truly is a master of short fiction. I am surprised that I have gone this far in my life and have just now found him.
The biographical information provided by his daughter enhances the reading pleasure as well as draws attention to the politics that contributed to self-censorship and eventual assassination from Stalin's henchmen.
Babel is the Checkov and the Turgenev of his time: classic Russian Short Fiction at its most beautiful.
The only drawback to this extensive collection is its extensiveness. Babel's longer works and plays lack some of the focus and integrity of his short stories. Luckily the short stories make up the bulk of the book.
If you can afford it buy the hardcover. It comes in a protective box and I guarantee this is a collection you will want to preserve and cherish forever.
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By jjo on December 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Babel's output was relatively small. His reputation rests on his short stories, particularly the stories about his hometown of Odessa and the remarkable Red Cavalry sequence describing the Soviet invasion of Poland. This work is, nonetheless, a high point of 20th century literature. Babel was a great writer, putting more into short stories than many talented writers can put into whole novels. His descriptions of life under the Czar, seen particularly through the prism of Jewish gangsters in Odessa, are remarkably gripping accounts of a repressive society. The Red Cavalry sequence, a tour de force of vivid narration and psychological insight gets right to the heart of the brutality that characterized much of the 20th century.
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Format: Hardcover
Babel is one of the great storytellers. The man who according to his description as recorded by Lionel Trilling had ' spectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart' was a pale Yeshiva- boy type thrust into the world of Cossack violence. He recorded that violence and the horror of it with chilling accuracy in his 'Red Cavalry' stories. More ebullient are the stories of the Odessa Jewish underworld and its Robin- Hood Benya Krik. Babel was a writer of the mot juste who grew up on Flaubert and Maupassant. He wrote and rewrote his stories, thirty or forty times. "No steel pierces the heart more poignantly than a period in the right place'.

The most memorable of his stories for me is one of his childhood 'For my Dovecoat' about the experiencing of a pogrom, the murder of a grandfather.

Babel has been celebrated by many of the most distinguished modern writers and critics. Deservedly so.

He is a true master.
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Format: Hardcover
Babel is a masterful teller of short stories. His stories, most of which do not exceed a few pages, speak volumes about the extraordinary times in which he lived. For me, the most interesting aspect of Babel's writing is his ability to convey how the onset of Soviet power changed everything--and yet changed nothing (ie, the cossacks of the Red Army seeking to spread world communist revolution in Poland, and simultaneously reprising past cossack wars and pogroms in the region). Babel lived in a fascinating, uncertain time, and his vivid diaries describe the Red Army's exhilaration as they sweep westward into Poland--seemingly as the vanguard of a world revolution--and their confusion and dejection as the Polish pans push them back.

This book was too intense and too homogeneous for me to read all at once: many of Babel's stories feature the same themes (chiefly Jewish life and red cavalry) and after a few hundred pages a definite sense of deja vu sets in as Babel reworks various characters, scenes, etc. Nonetheless, a fantastic book to read in smaller chunks.
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