Isaac Babel

My People

Isaac Babel, 5 April 1990

Zhitomir, 5 June 1920. Jews beside a large house, including a yeshivah-bokher in glasses. An old man with a yellow beard. I want to stay, but the men from signals are winding the wires in. Naturally, since the headquarters has gone. I decide to stop with Duvid the Disciple. The soldiers try to dissuade me, but the Jews ask me to stay … I wash … Bliss … Large numbers of Jewish girls. They sit around me. The household is alarmed; the Disciple says: ‘First the Poles looted us, then these came with their whoops and noise, took away all my wife’s belongings.’ A girl: ‘You’re a Jew, aren’t you? We’re in trouble, we’re going to be looted, don’t go to bed.’ Night. The lantern by the window. A Hebrew grammar-book. My soul aches. Zuckerman the assistant with his rifle … Soldiers in the yard.

Glee

Gabriele Annan, 7 September 1995

Isaac Babel was a middle-class Jew from Odessa who rode to war with a Cossack regiment. This extraordinary conjunction occurred during the Russo-Polish war of 1920. It is not news, because the...

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