Isaac Babel's Odessa Tricksters

The great Jewish writer evoked a city—now under threat from Russia’s armies—with a character of its own that has entered into folklore, literature, and the popular imagination.

From a poster of Benya Krik, the 1926 Soviet film adaptation of Isaac Babel’s short stories.

From a poster of Benya Krik, the 1926 Soviet film adaptation of Isaac Babel’s short stories.

Observation
April 18 2022
About the author

Gary Saul Morson is the Lawrence B. Dumas professor of the arts and humanities at Northwestern University and the author of, among other books, Anna Karenina in Our Time (Yale).

Over the past few weeks, American newspapers have been reporting the terrible destruction that Russian armies have been inflicting on Mykolaiv (in Russian, Nikolaev), a town close to Odessa where the great Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel spent the first ten years of his life. Conquest of Mykolaiv would open the way to Odessa itself (which, as I write this, is being bombarded from the sea), a city with a character of its own that has entered into folklore, literature, and the popular imagination. Babel’s evocation of the city’s spirit remains the most famous and is generally admired almost as much as his famous Red Cavalry stories.

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More about: Arts & Culture, East European Jewry, Isaac Babel, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia-Ukraine war