Odessa Stories by Isaac Babel, translated and introduced by Boris Dralyuk
I first became aware of the importance of the Russian writer Isaac Babel (1895 to 1940, Odessa) in reading the only book worth reading on the short story The Lonely Voice: A study of the Short Story by Frank O'Connor. Now years later I do not think O'Connor was culturally equipped to place Babel in the context of Russian Jewish, especially Yiddish culture. Sometime ago I was given a great gift by Yale University Press, their comolete set of works of Yiddish literature in translation. In his illuminating introduction Boris Dralyuk explains the relationship between Russian as employed by the very large Jewish community in Odessa and Yiddish. In Odessa Stories Dralyuk has assembled all of Babel's set in Odessa short stories. Most focus on the struggles of Jews to survive in a society in which their rights were few and in which they were deeply, constantly in danger from anti-Jewish pograms.
I decided to begin my complete reading of Odessa Stories with "The Story of My Dovecote" because Dralyuk said it very poignantly depicts the impact of anti-Jewish feelings on the life of a young Jewish man. The father of the young man desperately wanted him to get in the top secondary school in Odessa. The quota for Jewish students was five percent. When he got in the whole family, but for the cautious mother, went wild celebrating. Then his dreams are seemingly crushed when a rich merchant bribes the school so his son can be admitted and he loses his place. I do not want to give away more of the rich plot. Babel brings the family and the community to life. The story does close in a crescendo of anti-Jewish violence.
For sure I will read all of Odessa Stories, about 260 pages.
Dralyuk has done a wonderful job editing, translating, and introducing Odessa Stories. I offer him the thanks of the reading life world.
Be sure and look at Dralyuk's very well done webpage
‘The Story of My Dovecote’was First published in the journal Krasnaia nov’, No. 4 (May 1925). Reprinted in the Odessa journal Shkval (Squall), No. 17 (May 1925), and in three issues of the daily Krasnaia gazeta (Red Newspaper), 18–20 May 1925.