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Collected Stories of Isaac Babel


Edited by his daughter Nathalie and translated by award winner Peter Constantine, this paperback edition includes the stunning "Red Cavalry Stories"; ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Collected Stories of Isaac Babel

Overall customer rating: 4.500
by rejoyce on Aug 15, 2007

Isaac Babel's experience as a Jewish intellectual who rode in the company of a Cossack regiment wedded art to action. According to Lionel Trilling, Babel rode in order to be "submitted to a test. . .to be initiated." But unlike Hemingway's protagonists, the aim of Babel's characters is not to possess "grace under pressure" but rather whether or not they can endure killing others. The narrator of "Squadron Commander Trunov" confronts precisely this dilemma. In the story, blood drips off Trunov's head "like rain off a rick," objectifying bloodshed by transfiguring it into a poetic image. However, the soldier's death is rendered with brevity and brutal directness. Trilling writes that Babel transforms violence through "the search for the word or phrase that will do its work with a ruthless speed, and his remarkable powers of significant distortion, the rapid foreshortening, the striking displacement of interest and shift of emphasis." "Pan Apolek" is concerned with the title character's tender spiritual passion. Babel has obvious affection for his artist-protagonist: "He would then have been the wittiest and most facetious combatant of all those with whom the Roman Church has had to deal in her seditious and evasive history; a combatant roaming the wide world over in a state of blissful intoxication with two white mice in his bosom and in his pocket a collection of the finest brushes." The painter alchemizes the commonplace into holy images by having peasants serve as models for his portraits of virgins and saints, inciting their endearment and the church hierarchy's wrath. Apolek is not unlike the author himself who consigned himself to the "genre of silence" rather than submit to Socialist Realist dictates and eventually died in a Stalinist labor camp. if Babel often aestheticizes the violence of his Cossack adventures, his prose can also be highly sensuous and colored, rhapsodizing about the natural world. Objects are often rendered with a delirious vividness. "My First Goose" wavers in its play of moods and sensations: male warmth, dreams of women, the ritual slaughter. Trilling mentions the counter-image to the Cossack violence in the Polish Jews' spiritual life. This spiritual preoccupation is present in "Pan Apolek." In the end, Trilling notes, "The opposition of these two images made his art--but it was not a dialectic that his Russia could permit."


Good collection

by RKK916 on Aug 7, 2007

I had never read Babel before, and enjoyed these stories. They are a window into a world that doesn't exist anymore.

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