Babel, Isaak Emmanuilovich

Babel’, Isaak Emmanuilovich


Born July 1 (13), 1894; died Mar. 17, 1941. Soviet Russian writer. Born in Odessa into the family of a Jewish merchant.

The first published stories by Babel’ appeared in the periodical Letopis’. Then, upon M. Gorky’s advice, he “went to make a living” and changed his profession several times. In 1920 he was a soldier and a political worker in the Red Cavalry. In 1924 he published several short stories, which later formed the cycles Red Cavalry and Odessa Tales. In his narrations of the soldiers and commanders of the Red Cavalry, he portrays, along with true defenders of the revolution, anarchist cossack freebooters; the narrator and main character, a young intellectual for whom the Civil War is a school of courage and revolutionary consciousness, appears as a stranger in this milieu. Although the critics of those years recognized the talent of Babel’ and the importance of his work, they reproached him for his naturalism and his vindication of primitive forces. In Odessa Tales, Babel’ portrays the life of poor Jews before the revolution; he finds in the daily life of the artisans and small merchants exotic traits and strong characters. In 1928, Babel’ published the play Sunset (produced by the Second Moscow Art Theater), and in 1935 the play Maria. He also wrote several scenarios. He was a master of the short story and aimed for laconism and precision. In his portrayal of the characters, plot conflicts, and descriptions he combined turbulent emotions with external impassivity. Although the style of his earlier stories is flowery and suffers from an excess of metaphors, he later developed a severe and restrained narrative manner. The work of Isaak Babel’ has been widely recognized and his works have been translated into many languages.


Izbrannoe. [Foreword by I. Erenburg.] Moscow, 1957.
Izbrannoe. [Introductory article by L. Poliak.] Moscow, 1966.


Voronskii.A. “I. Babel’.” In his book Literaturnye portrety, vol. 1. Moscow, 1928.
I. Babel’: Stat’i i materialy. Moscow, 1928.
Russkie Sovetskie pisateli-prozaiki: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’, vol. 1. Leningrad, 1959.