The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

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9780393328240: The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

Language - English

"A celebration of literary genius framed by 20th-century tragedy."--Richard Bernstein, New York Times

Finally in paperback, this "monumental collection; gathers all of Babel's deft and brutal writing, including a wide array of previously unavailable material, from never-before-translated stories to plays and film scripts" (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times). Reviewing the work in The New Republic, James Woods wrote that this groundbreaking volume "represents a triumph of translating, editing, and publishing. Beautiful to hold, scholarly and also popularly accessible, it is an enactment of love." Considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, Isaac Babel has left his mark on a generation of readers and writers. This book will stand as Babel's final, most enduring legacy. Winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award; A New York Times Notable Book, a and Library Journal Best Book, a Washington Post Book World Rave, a Village Voice Favorite Book of the Year.

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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

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.

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Babel, Isaac; Babel, Nathalie [Editor]; Constantine, Peter [Translator]; Ozick, Cynthia [Introduction];
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