Babel, Isaac Emmanuelovich
, 1894-1940, Russian writer, b. Odessa. Babel was quick to embrace the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, but in the end it was the regime born of that revolution that destroyed him. He won fame with Odessa Tales
(1921-23), written in Russian-Jewish dialect, and Red Cavalry
(1926, tr. 1929), dramatic stories based on his life in the army (he had concealed his Jewish identity) and employing the racy slang of the Kuban Cossacks with whom he rode. The original journal from which this book was written, 1920 Journal,
was published in Russia as the Soviet Union disintegrated and translated into English in 1995. A brilliant litarary stylist, he wrote a uniquely terse and forceful prose, combining astringent Jewish irony with Russian caricature, lyricism with brutality, and comedy with bleakly grave subject matter. He also wrote the novel Benia Krik
(1927) about an Odessan Jewish gangster, and turned to drama with Sunset
(1928) and Maria
(1935). Babel was criticized by the Communist party during the 1930s, arrested in 1939, and executed in 1940 after a 20-minute trial. After Stalin's death, some of his works were republished in censored form in the Soviet Union. Translations of his best stories appear in Collected Stories
(1955) and You Must Know Everything
(1969). The Complete Works of Isaac Babel,
edited by his daughter Nathalie, was published in English translation in 2001.
See memoir by his companion, Antonina Pirozhkova (tr. 1996); biography by J. Charyn (2005); studies by P. Carden (1972), R. W. Hallett (1972), J. E. Falen (1974), D. Mendelson (1982), M. Ehre (1986), and R. Mann (1994).
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