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.