"Rich and riveting, complex and compelling, powerful and poetic."—Peter M. Gianotti, Newsday
In Odessa, the greatest port on the Black Sea, a dream of cosmopolitan freedom inspired geniuses and innovators, from the writers Alexander Pushkin and Isaac Babel to Zionist activist Vladimir Jabotinsky and immunologist Ilya Mechnikov. Yet here too was death on a staggering scale, as World War II brought the mass murder of Jews carried out by the city’s Romanian occupiers. Odessa is an elegy for the vibrant, multicultural tapestry of which a thriving Jewish population formed an essential part, as well as a celebration of the survival of Odessa’s dream in a diaspora reaching all the way to Brighton Beach.
In his intricately researched new work, King (The Black Sea) brings to life the stories of the Russians, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Italians, Germans, and Romanians that make up the "quintessentially mixed city" of Odessa. Far from the Russian and Ukrainian seats of power, but close to Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean states, Odessa has always been both a progressive, cosmopolitan trading port and a lawless outpost given to periods of violence, revolution, and economic depression. King effortlessly moves between the city's high points, like the booming grain trade in the late-18th and mid-19th centuries and urban development under the duc de Richelieu, and its desperate times, including the economic collapse associated with the Crimean War and the city's devastating Jewish holocaust at the hands of Romanian occupiers in the 1940s. King weaves into his history the lives of Alexander Pushkin, Isaac Babel, and Sergei Eisenstein, all of whom had connections to Odessa, a city still struggling to understand its place in the world. King's ability to lay bare the city's secrets both good and bad gives a fascinating prism through which to observe.
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I expected a book about a city. What I got was the Jewish history of Odessa. While that might be an interesting book, it wasn't what I expected, and wasn't what I wanted to read about. Furthermore, the book as a whole isn't very coherent; there's no clear theme organizing the story, and it makes it hard to really get a feeling for Odessa. Too bad.