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Red Cavalry Paperback – April 17, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“My favorite writer of fiction is Isaac Babel, primarily for one book, Red Cavalry. I find [it] endlessly haunting for its blunt yet somehow elusive style…it invariably leaves me feeling off balance and on edge. And I can't stop rereading it.” (Richard Price - New York Times Book Review)

“Marvelously subtle, tragic, and often comic commentaries on the desecration of revolutionary activity.” (James Wood - The New Republic)

“From the very first story, Red Cavalry opens like a cannon shot. In glorious, expressionist description, a cavalry division has forded the Zbrucz River at night…Amid beauty, amid courage and even warmth that are often overwhelming, there are butchery and murder, acts that can never be forgiven, only forgotten, and Babel does not let you forget.” (James Salter - Los Angeles Times Book Review)

About the Author

Isaac Babel was a journalist, playwright, and short story writer, whose works include the Russian masterpieces Red Cavalry and The Odessa Tales. He was arrested and executed in a Soviet prison in 1940.

Nathalie Babel, his daughter, edited two other books of Babel's writing and is the author of Hugo and Dostoevsky.

Peter Constantine's most recent translations are Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy, The Essential Writings of Machiavelli, and The Bird is a Raven by Benjamin Lebert, which was awarded the Helen und Kurt Wolff Translation Prize. He was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann, and the National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov: Thirty-Eight New Stories. His translation of the complete works of Isaac Babel received the Koret Jewish Literature Award and a National Jewish Book Award citation. He has recently translated Gogol’s Taras Bulba, Tolstoy’s The Cossacks, and Voltaire’s Candide for Modern Library. He was one of the editors for A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000, and is a senior editor at Conjunctions.

Michael Dirda, who won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism at the Washington Post Book World, is the author of An Open Book, Bound to Please, and Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 3/18/03 edition (April 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324235
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It takes a little time to adjust to Russian writing. Babel writes in short, choppy and sharp sentences that score point after point with the reader. He paints pictures that are clear and vivid and he opens the reader to feel the scene. This is very interesting stuff because he doesn't tell you how to feel, you just will feel.

I believe this work is important because it gives a good look at the early Soviet psyche. This is like seeing a teenage thug before he becomes the gangster.

Read and savor. If you consider yourself a reader but haven't read Babel---start here.

Chris Reich, TeachU.com
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Format: Paperback
Russian-Jewish writer Isaak Babel's collection of stories, Red Cavalry, comes close to perfection in many ways. In terms of theme, tone, pacing, and momentum, Babel gets everything right.

The collection follows the exploits of a Cossack cavalry unit in its fight against the Poles. Although war features heavily in the stories, it is merely the focal point of the action. Babel takes characters from diverse backgrounds, experiences, political and religious stances and shades, and gives them a voice in his tales.

It is no wonder that Babel did not survive Stalin. A mind and creatively so vast and encompassing could never fit into an ideology no matter how broadly defined.
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Babel's Red Cavalry is a remarkably candid look at a little known subject of the Bolshevik's effort to export their revolution to Europe via Poland. His writing is very much in the style of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in that he cuts through to the heart of the matter in a very subtle manner, and vividly describes the drive, actions, and sufferings of those involved in this conflict.
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A very good description of the Polish Soviet war in the early years of Soviet Russia. The stories are short, many article length (as they were originally intended for many of them). The author goes into the horror of war and its effects on the people who live or rather survive in this environment, both the soldiers and the "civilians". The author explores the descent of his characters into the moral abyss of brutal war. Babel also does not shy of showing faults in the communist party--even though he was an ardent communist. He runs afoul the thought police and ends up in prison and eventually executed by the Soviet government. (Though probably taking the wife of the head of the NKVD as a lover did not help).

I found the read fairly quick read as the writer is a very gifted writer and this is a good translation. The short (sometimes very short) individual stories lend itself to part time reading or reading while you wait say in a doctor's office. The book is very thoughtful and thought provoking.
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Beautiful, sharp, powerful stories. A shame Babel isn't more widely read - and taught - in the U.S. (Red Calvary would be an excellent addition to world literature curricula at the advanced high school level - the stories are thrilling, and there is so much here to learn about the history of Russia's civil war.)
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Format: Paperback
Pushkin Press continues to create books that are not only fine translations (spot comparisons find Dralyuk to be more fluent and truer to Babel’s voice than previous translations), but finely made books. This volume is compact and beautifully bound. It fits nicely in a coat pocket and I found myself carrying it around to savor while in waiting rooms or in coffee shops.

And there is much to savor here. For Babel was one of the finest writers of the Soviet era. Unfortunately, like Mandelstam, Bulgakov and far too many others, his vast talent was sent to an early grave by murderers who fashioned themselves as protectors of the common good.

Babel was a literary chameleon – able to vividly capture the voices and characters he met during the brutal years of the Polish-Soviet War (1919-21), where nations barely born were fighting over borders soon to be forgotten. The stories here are gory and profane, funny and disturbing, filled with the blood, anguish and up-close horrors of one of the last wars in Europe fought with sabers and horses. But there is also a taste of magical realism here. Roads die and villages bleed, the world itself seems to moan and suffer from the carnage wrought on its fertile soil.

No one is spared Babel’s goring and, more than anything, <em>Red Cavalry</em> is an indictment of the banality of armed conflict through the voices of commissars and idealists, revolutionaries and soldiers alike. It should be required reading in every high school, in every nation where people still think wars are worth fighting.

As reviewed in Russian Life magazine.
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A great translation! Better than a lot of the translations of Babel out there.
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Format: Paperback
In 1919-20, Isaac Babel served as a journalist and propagandist on the Soviet side in the Soviet-Polish War. The war was an important element of the ‘Russian’ Civil Wars that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Red Army was eventually turned back from Warsaw, but secured all the territory of Eastern Ukraine that became a part of the pre-Second World War Soviet Union (extended to take more of Poland after 1939). The 35 short stories in Red Cavalry were written at the time (many are assigned a date and a place) and are based on Babel’s personal experience and stories that he was told as he followed the Red Cavalry around. In this neat Pushkin Press edition, none of the stories exceeds ten pages (around 2300 words); most are much shorter, even down to just one page. Most, therefore, could be described as sketches, or vignettes.

Thanks to Babel and translator Boris Dralyuk there is some fine writing:
‘”Lenin hits it straight away, like a hen pecking at a grain.”
‘That’s what Surovkov, platoon commander of the staff squadron, said about Lenin, and then we went to sleep in the hayloft. There were six of us, huddling together for warmth, our legs tangled, under a roof full of holes that let in the stars. I had dreams – dreamt of women – and only my heart, crimson with murder, creaked and bled.’

The murder Babel has on his conscience is of an old woman’s goose.

One of my interests is in the use of armored trains in war, the ‘Russian’ Civil Wars in particular. Babel doesn’t write much of ‘the agitprop (agitation and propaganda) train of the First Cavalry Army’ to which he was attached, but we do learn that it was ‘equipped with a ‘stubborn[ly] running printing press’. Now there’s a revelation!
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