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Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams Hardcover – February 28, 2011
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Thus Mr.King starts his fascinating tale of the city's history-a city founded on the shores of the Black Sea. Later on you could find in it everything and everyone: Russians, Romanians, Jews, Greeks, Italians, Germans. The city has attracted all kinds of people. Many of them were prominent figures and they included Alexander Pushkin, Grigory Potemkin, Jose de Ribas, Isaac Babel and various Jewish writers and Zionist activists. It was a city where intellectuals, crooks and raconteurs were living side by side. Like most sea and river ports, Odessa became a haven for the underworld and this thing in itself "became one of the deepest and most enduring features". Criminals, delinquents, Jewish artful dodgers and schemers populated the city, which was built originally by Catherine the Great as a model of Enlightenment. One of the most famous personalities was Illya Mechnikov, the famous immunologist who earned the Nobel prize and whose tragic life is well told here. His story is only part of a greater picture of the terrible and endless plagues which were rampant in Odessa throughout the centuries. This resulted in many quarantines imposed by the authorities on ships and travellers alike. Another plague, that of locusts during the nineteenth century, caused the inhabitants of Odessa to find comic solutions, such as the creation of enough noise to scare the insects away.Read more ›
I've never been to Odessa but I think I've built my own memory of this city out of stories I heard growing up. On July 11, 1896 my grandfather Chaim arrived at Ellis Island. He had left his native city, Odessa, in 1895 and somehow made his way from Odessa to Hamburg and from there to New York. He then sent for his wife and five children. Upon the arrival of the ship his wife told him the five children had died of typhus while in port in Antwerp. They proceeded to have six more children, including my father. Growing up I heard stories from my father that consisted of his retelling of the Odessa stories that he heard from his father. What always struck me was how Odessa sounded so much like New York. It was a noisy, brash, sometimes scary melting pot that because of its natural harbor served as a crossroad of world trade. It was a place of great trade and petty cons, a new city that was proud of being unlike any other city in its country and one that was not limited by hundreds of years of tradition. I heard that Odessa was the one place in the Pale of Settlement (the areas in the Russian empire where Jews were allowed to live) where Jews could break out of the chains of shtetl poverty and make a living. A place that, while not necessarily a haven of political liberty, had a passion for business and trade that allowed people to break out of the economic class that they were born in. Last I heard it was a place of thriving culture as befit a city that took in traders and travelers from around the world. It was no surprise to learn that my great-grandfather was an actor who travelled around the Pale of Settlement putting on Shakespeare's plays in Yiddish.Read more ›
As King notes, in 1905 Odessa experienced "the deadliest and most notorious pogrom in Russian history." (p. 160) Research done at the time on the refugees from the pogrom found that "just under a third had lost at least one family member in a pogrom, around 44 percent of them losing one or both parents." (p. 181) The ferocity of these at least partially state-sponsored outbursts of violence against Jews led to the creation of Jewish self-defense organizations. I would have liked to have had a bit more on these organizations, but overall the section on the pogrom and its aftermath was very evocative.
Unfortunately, the pogrom was not an aberration. In what I think is the most fascinating and most important part of the book, King details how the Romanian allies of the Nazis carried out their own section of the Holocaust in Odessa. Although they were not quite as organized as the Nazis, the leadership of the Romanian occupation's willingness to use violence and belief in anti-Semitism rivaled that of the Nazis. As King states, this is an almost unknown aspect of the Holocaust. I'm a Russian historian and taught a class on the Holocaust, and I hadn't previously come across this aspect of the Holocaust.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Love this book.! It,s equally entertaining as it,s historically deep.
the author gave priceless information on the historical periods of the city, especially it was super... Read more
Utterly fascinating history of Odessa. Amazingly easy to read scholarship paints an extraordinary picture of this amazing city/harbor in Russia where populations and cultures... Read morePublished 13 months ago by D. Gordon-Brown
I read anything Charles King writes, and then a year or two later, usually reread it. I have long been interested in Odessa, and with the recent Russian annexation of Crimea,... Read morePublished 17 months ago by lyndonbrecht