Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Along for the Ride: The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel

Babel's fiction is very time bound, and can be confusing to people without an inside glimpse of his world and the events which surrounded him. Take ha group of stories within the Collected Stories called The Odessa Tales. Here his first collection of stories is filled with colorful characters from the full spectrum of Jewish life at the turn of the century Odessa.

There are gangsters, police, rabbis, prostitutes, illegal enterprises of all kinds. This is shown quite naturally and without introduction. Babel presumes his audience knows that kind of city Odessa was at the turn of the century. Most of us do not. Odessa was a relatively "new" Russian city, where classes, religions, and ethnicities mixed freely. Money was king in this Odessa, which thrived on international trade from its excellent warm water port.

So, you need to bring a lot to Babel's fiction to get a complete understanding. Of course, you can ignore this. His descriptive abilities are masterful; his sense of character and timing impeccable. If you are a patient reader, you can just let Babel unfold the story and go along for the ride.

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