"Amazing not only as literature but as biography." —Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
One of the great masterpieces of Russian literature, the Red Cavalry cycle retains today the shocking freshness that made Babel's reputation when the stories were first published in the 1920s. Using his own experiences as a journalist and propagandist with the Red Army during the war against Poland, Babel brings to life an astonishing cast of characters from the exuberant, violent era of early Soviet history: commissars and colonels, Cossacks and peasants, and among them the bespectacled, Jewish writer/intellectual, observing it all and trying to establish his role in the new Russia.
Drawn from the acclaimed, award-winning Complete Works of Isaac Babel, this volume includes all of the Red Cavalry cycle; Babel's 1920 diary, from which the material for the fiction was drawn; and his preliminary sketches for the stories—the whole constituting a fascinating picture of a great writer turning life into art.
The stories in this classic collection are set in the summer of 1920, when Babel was 25 and sent to cover the Polish-Soviet War for the Red Cavalryman newspaper. Sympathetic to the revolution yet having a satiric eye, he describes the newspaper s writers who roam about in the barren dust of the rear and spread the riot and fire of their leaflets. Babel was a Jew assigned to a Cossack regiment; his stand-in first-person narrator overcomes the soldiers animosity when, in the story My First Goose, he breaks a fowl s neck and orders it to be roasted up. In The Story of a Horse and The Story of a Horse, Continued, a dispute between a squadron commander and a division commander over a horse produces an exchange of letters full of heartfelt (though jargony) prose and brutal honesty the commanders have more of an emotional connection to the horses than to other people. Casual violence ( grabbed her hair, bent back her head and smashed her face with his fist ) alternates with beauty, sometimes in the same sentence ( We fled without staining our swords crimson with the wretched blood of traitors ). The stories, which are often not much more than anecdotes, mostly focus on characters like Apolek, an itinerant painter; squadron commander Trunov; and a rabbi in Zhitomir, as well as the occasional flashes of battle. This translation is of the first 1926 edition, before censorship and the author s own revisions altered the text.