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The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,336 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Following the historic publication of Norton's The Complete Works of Isaac Babel in the fall of 2001, The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel appears as the most authoritative and complete edition of his fiction ever published in paperback. Babel was best known for his mastery of the short story form—in which he ranks alongside Kafka and Hemingway—but his career was tragicall ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published October 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 2002)
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This volume of translated stories consists of the cycle Red Cavalry and at least some of his Odessa Stories.

Isaac Babel, by origin a bookish Odessa Jew, a literary man, rode with the largely illiterate and entirely anti-Semitic Cossack Red Cavalry into Poland. One hundred years ago give or take as the Russian revolution expanded and came into full bloom, the first world war came in Eastern Europe, not quite to an end but more sputtered into confusion, at this point an army of red cavalry gallop
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What I learned and what I continue to learn from Isaac Babel is nothing less than how to write.

When I first found "Guy De Maupassant" languishing in an anthology held over from my college years, I was, in the first place, captivated. In the second, infuriated. How could I have attended one of the top twenty English programs in the country and never once been introduced to Isaac Babel? It was enough to make me want to demand a tuition refund.

Babel was executed in 1940 by Stalin's regime and his
May 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This particular edition was translated by Walter Morison, with an introduction by Lionel Trilling. Babel was an early 20th century Ukrainian author, purged by Stalin in the late 1930’s. He was a master storyteller, and his short stories are incomparable. In this volume they are grouped under three overarching titles, “Red Cavalry,” “Tales of Odessa,” and “Stories.” Each group is distinctive in its focus, although all share a similar general style.

Trilling’s long introduction is well worth readin

Punchy, taut, brisk, abrupt, grotesque, surprisingly subtle and rather laconic. To have ridden in the Red Calvary alone, as an Odessan Jew, was definitely an act of tremendous guts- to write about it effectively afterward is even more impressive, of course.

His short story "Guy De Maupassant" is perfect.

He was snuffed out far too early and was tragically intended to be forgotten by the Stalinist state but his prose sears and burns off the page as if even his sentences themselves are fighting to s
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Critical Response: My First Goose by Isaac Babel translated by Walter Morison

My First Goose appears as part of Red Cavalry, which is essentially a novel told with short stories. Red Cavalry was first published in 1929 and is generally considered Babel’s finest work in short form. The larger plot is based on Babel’s own experience as a youth fighting among the ranks of Budenny’s notorious Cossack band. The plot of My First Goose details in first person perspective the appointment of a young law
May 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: children of marxists
Shelves: shortfiction
There's a lot to be said for the work of Isaac Babel. Not only did he write at a time when great political forces were at work, and not only did he get a chance to participate directly in one of the greatest of these forces, the Red Army, but Babel's prose style, which combines coolly analytical description with just a touch of the surreal - especially when it comes to the violence of the Russian Revolution - fit his times exceptionally well. Or so you could say of the later work in this book. T ...more
The stories are divided into four groups: "Early Stories," "'Autobiographical' Stories," "Red Cavalry", and "Odessa Stories." The stories, sometimes more like sketches, in "Red Cavalry" describe his experiences when he joined the Red Cossacks in the short 1920 war against Poland. The emphasis is on the horrors of war and their effect on the men who fight—some rising to heroic action, some unable to cope; some unexpectedly rising to leadership, some escaping to brutalism. In some respects they ar ...more
Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Russophiles
"I had dreams and saw women in my dreams, and only my heart, stained crimson with murder, squeaked and overflowed."

First things first: the cover of this edition is hilariously bad. It's a bland, black-and-white photograph of the author ('disappeared' Jewish Russian writer, Isaac Babel) that makes him look like an insane Chinese shopkeeper.

Second things second: as with most story collections, things tend to be hit or miss, but for this one the hits are really all in the central section, 'Red Cava
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of Russian literature, war literature and modern short stories
An astounding collection. The short stories of Isaac Babel are unlike those of any other author I've read. At first I wasn't sure if I liked them: I found them disarming in an odd way, concise but directionless, too compressed for my taste; but even though they are very precise the prose they are rendered in still manages to be extremely lyrical and mysterious. Babel's poetic but muscular style makes it all the more devastating when an enigmatic or hallowed scene suddenly explodes into direct or ...more
Aug 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
Between this translation by Constantine and an older one by Walter Morison, I prefer Constantine's. He is more direct, perhaps even snappy or punchy, without sacrificing any of Babel's famously strange and lyrical imagery. Not that Morison is weak, by any means. I first encountered Babel through Morison and was bowled over by these violent yet compassionate stories. Constantine just deepened exhiliration.

My favorite stories are "Dolgushov's Death," "My First Goose," and "Guy de Maupassant," whic
Brian Grover
Sep 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Isaac Babel was a famous Russian short story writer who published a handful of collections before being executed in one of Stalin's purges in 1940. This collection is, I think, all of the short stories he ever published (along with some that he didn't and were discovered posthumously). It's an impressive collection, nearly 100 stories in all.

I read this in parallel with Winesburg, Ohio - because why read one ancient collection of short stories when you can read two? I suppose my biggest problem
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
This collection took me a long time because Babel cannot be read quickly. The rich, somewhat surreal detail of his prose must be savored slowly, for me a few pages at a time. How he manages to write of the horrors he witnessed, yet write with such humor, is a literary miracle. Several times, contemporary writers I tried to read at the same time suffered so much by comparison, I had to put them aside. I feel much more knowledgeable about Eastern European and Hebraic culture now, after reading the ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
For the first two-thirds of this book I was convinced somehow that Babel's brutal world of thuggish amorality would be preferable to my own, I think because it involved horses, was set in central Europe and described by Babel. Then he gets into his childhood and the pogroms in the last third of the book and it was so grotesquely horrifying that I wouldn't trade places with his characters for the world, no way, I've had enough of childhood thank you, although mine wasn't so bad I guess since no o ...more
Matt Brant
In this collection, three sections gather the best from his three major groups. The Dovecote stories and the Odessa stories featuring the gangster Benya Krik are about Jewish life in that port at the beginning of the 20th century. Babel was in the Russian Army in 1918-19 and a war correspondent in the Cossack Calvary Army in 1920. The Red Cavalry tales tell about the appalling brutality of the Russian Revolution and Russo-Polish war of 1920 and the indifference to suffering of the Cossack troops ...more
Jeff Jackson
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Walter Morrison translation is the one you want. The new Norton editions are handsome and worth owning for hardcore fans but the translations are a bit clunky. Newcomers should start here to discover why Babel is such a great short story writer in modes ranging from bawdy stories about Odessa, caustic fables, laugh out loud sketches about the foibles of politics and love, poetic evocations of youth, and harrowingly bleak stories of wartime.
Lisa Lieberman
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I see something new, each time I read these stories, and Trilling's intro to the 1955 edition put me in the perfect frame of mind. It's as if Babel knew he would not live long, and so he crammed everything he knew into the smallest space possible. So much to learn from him!
Simon Robs
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These were brutal stories. They came off like a scratched eyeball. I have not an iota of background with which to relate. I did however ride along entranced and shivery my senses alight the cold at my back and hungry. Where who, how so, could, should would be? Oi vey!
Feb 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Another good Russian writer. Deep and philosophical while asking insightful questions concerning modern anthropology and ethics.
dear great-grandparents, thank you for getting the fuck out of russia and poland. sincerely, m.
Bob Newman
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beauty in Confusion, Humor in Tragedy

Many years ago, as an undergraduate, I read these stories for a class on Soviet Literature. We had to do a lot of reading and I'm afraid I read these more as an assignment. Also, I was young, I hadn't really absorbed the process of thinking about literature, so I judged them according to the plots, nothing more. They were OK, I thought, but I hadn't grokked them in their fullness, to steal a phrase from Robert Heinlein. Now, over half a century later, I've ju
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
I read the following stories from this collection: "The Public Library" (from Early Stories); "How Things Were Done in Odessa" and Lyubka the Cossack" (from The Odessa stories); "Crossing the River Zbrucz" and "My First Goose" (from the Red Cavalry stories); "The Story of my Dovecote," "First Love," "The Awakening," "In the Basement," "Guy De Maupassant," and "Di Grasso" (from Stories 1925-1938).

I read only a selection of stories from this collection and I would like to go back to this book one
Jamie MacDonald Jones
Many moments of scintillating short story prose, especially in the sharp changes between brutal violence and touching intimacy. My favourite line in the entire collection was by far

“Unlike his divine prototype, he was rather slow on the uptake; but his voice, spreading out limitless and fatal, filled the soul with the sweetness of self-destruction and gypsy oblivion”

Babel shows himself to be a very succinct wordsmith, able to get across huge amounts of moral ambiguity in a few short pages. I di
Neil Crossan
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
I picked this up because this guy was supposedly a great short story writer. Ugh okay. To me he’s like that friend of a friend who tells the worst stories that assumes you know the people in the story. But you don’t. And then crazy terrible stuff happens and you wish this guy would stop telling stories. But he rolls in to another on how he never learned to swim and you’re thanking god at least his stories are short. And you know something nutty is going to happen to this guy so when you hear he ...more
J. Harris
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not a wasted word, visually descriptive and evocative. Amazing how much Babel fits into one sentence with few words. Also recommend the memoir by his second wife, A.N. Pirozhkova (At His Side: The Last Years of Isaac Babel), for a perspective on his life and tragedy of his early death. Interesting note: on NPR's Selected Shorts (featuring guests' favorite short stories), Richard Price (writer of Lush Life, and of The Wire) chose Babel's "The King" about Benya Krik, his incomparable Jewish gangst ...more
Natalie Keating
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, classics, russia
I can't really say I enjoyed this book. I had to read three stories in it for a Russian literature class in college: "My First Goose," "The Story of My Dovecote," and "Crossing the Zbrucz." I now understand why my professor chose only those three: I think they're the best-written of the whole lot, which isn't saying much. Honestly, there are much better works of Russian literature out there, so unless you want to read the entire canon of Russian literature, I'd say skip this one.
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some of the absolute best writing I have ever read.
Tim Nason
The cover art on this Meridian Books edition is by Milton Glaser. Lionel Trilling's introduction is brilliant and comprehensive. Very powerful stories: brilliant prose, bleak worldview, brutal events.
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ISAAC BABEL: COLLECTED STORIES. (this trans. 1994). ****.
Isaac Babel (1894-1941?) was born in Odessa, the son of a Jewish tradesman. When he was twenty-one, he went to St. Petersburg, where he met Maxim Gorky. Gorky was the first to encourage him to write, and subsequently published his first stories in his magazine. Babel fought with the Tsarists during the First World War, but, in 1917 went over to the Bolsheviks. Later, he began writing short stories and became an instant success. The tales
Dave Morris
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dave by: Dr David Thorburn
Apologies to Dr Johnson, but it's been a very long time since any intelligent person could seriously assert that it's the job of writers to present the reader with a moral lesson. Even so, fiction lies. If you were an alien who only knew of human beings from reading their literature, you wouldn't recognize the species when you came across it. That's because even the best authors bake their own viewpoint into the story. Darkness At Noon or Bend Sinister or Dirty Snow -- in all of those books are ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
if you grew up, lived and died during: the violent pogroms against the jews, the mass expulsions of them to 'the pale of settlement' (baltic states + - think of the eastern front in world war one, it was fought over the jewish refugees resettlement areas and both sides took some time off to engage in theft, rape, pogroms etc), the Russian revolution, the violent invasion of the west/the white army, world war two: if this was your entire world, then 'logic' 'certainty' 'behaving in a r
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Isaak Emmanuilovich Babel (Russian: Исаак Эммануилович Бабель; 1901 - 1940) was a Russian language journalist, playwright, literary translator, and short story writer. He is best known as the author of Red Cavalry, Story of My Dovecote, and Tales of Odessa, all of which are considered masterpieces of Russian literature. Babel has also been acclaimed as "the greatest prose writer of Russian Jewry." ...more
“No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” 78 likes
“Her sponge cakes had the aroma of crucifixion.Within them was the sap of slyness and the fragrant frenzy of the Vatican.” 3 likes
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