Isaak Babel

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Trifonov called his interview "The Books that Choose Us." Not holding back, he expressed admiration for several writers who had experienced official repression, among them Isaak Babel', who was shot in 1940; Marina Tsvetaeva, who committed suicide in 1941; Mikhail Zoshchenko, who had endured withering official criticism in 1946; and Boris Pasternak, who had been mercilessly attacked for Doctor Zhivago in the late 1950s.
Morin invokes his heroic literary forebears--Czeslaw Milosz, Isaak Babel, Miklos Radnoti, amongst others--in his energetic and moving book of fantasias and elegies, alert to history, rich with memory, which is, as he tells us, 'a larger country.' I welcome this 'pageantry of the interior,' this memorable first book."--Edward Hirsch
Alex De Jonge quotes Isaak Babel's remark that the constant threat of domestic informers forced men to "talk only at night, to one's wife, with a blanket pulled over the head" (Stalin, NY: Morrow, 1986, 272).
The essays discuss writers well known in the West, such as Chekhov, Nabokov and Pasternak along with those not yet recognized outside Russia: Andrei Platonov, Yury Olesha, Isaak Babel, Abram Tertz, Vasili Shukshin, Varlan Shamalov, Tatiana Tolstaia, Lyudmila Petrushevskaia, Victor Erofeev,Andrei Bitov and Viktor Pelevin.
The juxtaposition of lyrical passages with descriptions of slaughter and violence result in an assault on the senses similar to that created by Isaak Babel in The Red Cavalry and Odessa Tales.
In approaching these key questions, Cockrell has chosen some twenty-five representative texts from works of prose fiction, excluding poetry and drama, and avoiding texts, like Isaak Babel's Konarmiia, for instance, which have already received widespread critical attention in the West.
In the 1920s some of the most gifted and popular Soviet writers, such as Osip Mandelstam, Leonid Leonov, Boris Pilnyak, Isaak Babel, Ilya Ehrenburg, and members of the Serapion Brothers, were fellow travelers.
Steiner is haunted by figures like Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, Georg Lukacs, Arnold Schonberg, Isaak Babel, men in whose background of central European humanism and learning, now shattered and distorted, he rediscovers himself and the anomalies of his contemporary position.
(1) Secret police officers became co-authors of these hidden "masterpieces." Isaak Babel', for instance, became a serial foreign agent of sorts, confessed to surreal charges, and was executed without a show trial.