Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams

  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
The port city of Odessa, first set­tled in 1794, has always been a cos­mopoli­tan gath­er­ing place. Peo­ple of many nation­al­i­ties brought cre­ative think­ing, trade, and pro­gres­sive ideas to this city far from the cen­ter of polit­i­cal pow­er. Alexan­der Pushkin, Isaac Babel, Vladimir Jabotin­sky, and Ilya Metch­nikoff are among the illus­tri­ous thinkers who enjoyed Odessa’s free­dom. But Odessa also knew eco­nom­ic depres­sion, law­less­ness, plague, and vio­lence. Charles King, pro­fes­sor of inter­na­tion­al affairs and gov­ern­ment at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, stud­ies East­ern Europe. This well researched book explores the city’s col­or­ful his­to­ry, not­ing that one quar­ter of its pop­u­la­tion was Jew­ish in the 1860’s. Vicious pogroms killed many of them. Much lat­er, when Jews com­prised a third of the pop­u­la­tion, Nazi-allied Roma­nia destroyed Odessa’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. The city still retains its myth­i­cal sta­tus, remem­bered as the loca­tion of Sergei Eisenstein’s Bat­tle­ship Potemkin and in the dias­po­ra of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn’s Lit­tle Odessa” neigh­bor­hood. With illus­tra­tions, notes, and exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy, this fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry is both good read­ing and a valu­able research source.
Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

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