The Essen­tial Fictions

  • From the Publisher
March 29, 2018

The Essen­tial Fic­tions offers con­tem­po­rary read­ers sev­en­ty-two short sto­ries by one of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Rus­si­a’s pre­mier sto­ry­tellers, Isaac Babel. This unique vol­ume, which includes Babel’s famous Red Cav­al­ry series and his Odessa Sto­ries, is trans­lat­ed, edit­ed, intro­duced, and anno­tat­ed by Val Vinokur, a 2008 Guggen­heim Fel­low in Trans­la­tion, and fea­tures illus­tra­tions by Yefim Ladyzhen­sky, a painter known for his depic­tions of every­day life under Sovi­et rule in Babel’s native Odessa.

Babel was born in 1894 into mul­ti­cul­tur­al Odessa’s thriv­ing Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Work­ing as a jour­nal­ist, he wit­nessed the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion and Civ­il War, and accom­pa­nied the Cos­sack horse­men of the Red Cav­al­ry dur­ing the 1920 Pol­ish-Sovi­et War, dis­till­ing these expe­ri­ences into his fic­tion. Vinokur high­lights Babel’s hor­ri­fied hope­ful­ness” and dole­ful and bespec­ta­cled Jew­ish com­e­dy” in the face of the bloody con­flicts that plagued his generation.

On the cen­te­nary of the rev­o­lu­tion that top­pled the Romanov tsars, Babel’s fic­tions con­tin­ue to absorb and fas­ci­nate con­tem­po­rary read­ers inter­est­ed in east­ern Euro­pean and Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture as well as the his­to­ry and pol­i­tics of the twen­ti­eth century.

Discussion Questions