In a humorous and poignant picture of his hometown, newly translated by Val Vinokur, the celebrated Soviet Jewish author Isaac Babel, born in 1894 and executed in 1940 as a victim of one of Stalin’s purges, begins thus:
Odessa is a nasty town. Everybody knows this. Instead of saying “what’s the difference,” over there they say, “what’s the differences,” and also, instead of “here and there,” they say, “hayr and thayr.” But still, it seems to me you could say a lot of good things about this important and most remarkable city in the Russian Empire. Just consider—a city where life is simple and easy. Half of the population consists of Jews, and Jews are people who are sure about a few basic things. They get married so they won’t be lonely, make love so they will live forever, save up money to buy their wives astrakhan jackets, love their offspring because, after all, it’s very good and important to love one’s children. Poor Jews in Odessa can get very confused by officials and official forms, but it isn’t easy to shift them from their ways, their fixed and ancient ways. Shift they will not, and one can learn a lot from them. To a significant degree, it is thanks to their efforts that Odessa has such a simple and easygoing atmosphere.
More about: Arts & Culture, Isaac Babel, Jewish literature, Joseph Stalin, Odessa, Soviet Jewry