"In the Basement" is set amongst a multi-generational family in Odessa in the 1920s. It is very much a story about the permeation of the culture by texts. One might see in the deeply Talmudic roots of the culture the genesis of the import of reading as an activity to be done in depth, with only writers like Spinoza and Shakespeare as truly worthy of attention. ( I think Babel saw Guy de Maupassant as among the greatest 19th century European writers.). It is also a story about the folly of the young, class differences in Odessa, jealousies over those with more money, and family ties. The ending, as Saunders says, is incredibly harsh. There are beautifully perfectly done quotations from Julius Caesar.
The Reading Life