The Essential Fictions
The Essential Fictions
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.
"To translate Babel is to attempt to invent, or reinvent, a language—a Jewish language—particularly given Babel’s predilection for marrying the argot of the underworld with highly sophisticated narration. . . . Vinokur is willing to experiment. Vinokur also pays close attention to names, one of Babel’s specialties: street names, Yiddish names, Slavic names, and especially nicknames." —Jewish Review of Books
“Vinokur gets the right effect most often” —The New York Review of Books
"[Vinokur’s] translations were done with attention, knowledge, and deference to the works of Isaac Babel–but most importantly, the personal inspiration and energy which he lent this great writer in the English language… Vinokur... has created a single volume that would, as the title suggests, encompass what he sees as all of Babel’s essential fictions–including [Red Cavalry and the Odessa Tales] along with over twenty other stories, creating a perspective on the author’s life and work. This perspective is evident in his notes, which offer a running commentary on stylistic and thematic issues present in Babel’s work, and also provide a window into the translation process." —David Stromberg, Public Seminar
"The translations by Val Vinokur are a delight. Editions of Babel's work in the original Russian were later censored and cut to fit with Stalinist orthodoxy. Here we get the stories as they were originally intended, whether on the struggles faced by Jewish people in the Odessa of Babel's childhood or the horrors that he witnessed in the Russian-Polish war." —The Socialist Review
“Val Vinokur [has] produced readable English translations sensitively attuned to Babel’s demanding Russian prose and its intertextual nuances… the English-speaking reader now has a valuable ‘essential’ edition of the major works of a lost genius swallowed up by the Stalinist terror whose work has been rescued by scholars and translators for posterity.” –The Russian Review