Cover of The Enigma of Isaac Babel by Edited by Gregory Freidin
The Enigma of Isaac Babel
Biography, History, Context
Edited by Gregory Freidin


288 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804759038
Ebook ISBN: 9780804773331

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A literary cult figure on a par with Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel has remained an enigma ever since he disappeared, along with his archive, inside Stalin's secret police headquarters in May of 1939. Made famous by Red Cavalry, a book about the Russian civil war (he was the world's first "embedded" war reporter), another book about the Jewish gangsters of his native Odessa, and yet another about his own Russian Jewish childhood, Babel has been celebrated by generations of readers, all craving fuller knowledge of his works and days. Bringing together scholars of different countries and areas of specialization, the present volume is the first examination of Babel's life and art since the fall of communism and the opening of Soviet archives. Part biography, part history, part critical examination of the writer's legacy in Russian, European, and Jewish cultural contexts, The Enigma of Isaac Babel will be of interest to the general reader and specialist alike.

About the author

Gregory Freidin, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Stanford University, is the author of a critical biography of the poet Osip Mandelstam, A Coat of Many Colors (1987), and the editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Isaac Babel's Selected Writings (2008, forthcoming).

"The Isaac Babel in this collection emerges multi-faceted and deeply intriguing, and the essays are written in fresh, engaging language that pulls the reader in . . . This collection of experts - linguists and comparativists, biographers and historians - shed new light on Isaac Babel and his life, his work, and his place within Russian, Jewish and World literatures."

—Angela Brintlinger, Canadian-American Slavic Studies

"The Enigma of Isaac Babel is infused with a sense of loss: Babel's manuscripts and correspondence were arrested with him, presumed lost in the wake of his execution at the age of forty-five. . . Highlighting the complexities of what it meant for Babel to be a Jew from Odessa who wrote in Russian in the Soviet Union, the volume successfully demonstrates his centrality to European, Soviet, and Jewish literary and historical traditions. . . In its reverence for the relics of a writer who left so little to posterity, The Enigma of Isaac Babel includes excellent examples of such scholarship."

—Lauren Kaminsky, Shofar: Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

"This collection of articles by some of the leading scholars working on Isaac Babel in recent times represents a veritable treasure trove for anyone researching or teaching Babel's works . . . A volume that sheds light on this most enigmatic of Soviet writers from so many angles is both overdue and welcome; readers of Babel should devour it with relish."

—Rebecca Stanton, Slavic and East European Journal

"Greogry Freidin's collection of the articles, The Enigma of Isacc Babel, covers an impressive range and includes much of value."

—Donald Rayfield, Times Literary Supplement

"This volume is motivated by the need for a reassessment of the literary legacy of Isaak Babel given the rich trove of materials that has become available in the last two decades . . . [I]t is a welcome contribution to the study of Babel."

—Patricia Carden, Cornell University, Slavic Review

"The authors reflect on questions about [Issac Babel's] life and his death at Stalin's hands, but also throughly explore and analyze the ambiguous meanings in his stories and plays, often indecipherable to the modern reader."

—Merrily F. Hart, AJL

"Contributed by an international group of scholars who had access to Soviet archives, the 12 essays in this collection are organized into three parts....All display impressive erudition and are extensively documented. Enhanced by photographs, this is a necessary resource for those interested in Russians literature and/or Jewish literary studies." D. B. Johnson Choice>I>

"The Enigma of Isaac Babel is a tour de force of scholarly writing as it should be: erudite, well-researched, at once path-breaking and definitive, lucidly written, stylistically vibrant, and captivating as narrative. Freidin—a foremost Babel scholar in his own right—has gathered in this volume the leading scholars currently working in the field. Every essay reveals a "new," unexpected Babel."

—Evgeny Dobrenko, University of Sheffield

"The Enigma of Isaac Babel is an excellent book on a major writer. The reader is treated here to a great deal of biographical material on Babel not generally known before and it is integrated into sophisticated analytical frames. Many of the monographic studies on Babel came out some time ago and are now dated, leaving the door open for this new work, which draws on information made available since perestroika."

—Katerina Clark, Yale University