A wife's evocative memoir of the vibrant and creative world of her husband and of the generation of extraordinary men and...

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AT HIS SIDE: The Last Years of Isaac Babel

A wife's evocative memoir of the vibrant and creative world of her husband and of the generation of extraordinary men and women whom Stalin destroyed. Although considered one of the masters of the Russian short story in this century (The Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories are his most famous works), Isaac Babel remains relatively uncelebrated outside of Russia. A full-scale biography does not exist. This new volume, by Babel's second (but unofficial) wife, is an intimate, heartwarming, and inspiring account of the years the two spent together in the 1930s up until Babel's arrest and murder in 1939-40. He clearly possessed both a unique talent and a genius for friendship. He insisted on merriment; his modus operandi was joking, and he even attempted to joke with the NKVD agent who arrested him. His kindness ""bordered on catastrophic,"" and his generosity was notorious. Although enormously well read, he disliked literary discussions and participated in them with only one man, his dear friend and mentor, Maxim Gorki. Pirozhkova also offers an intimate portrait of Babel's interactions with his intellectual compatriots, including both the well-known (Sergey Eisenstein, Andr‚ Malraux) and the obscure. The main criterion for earning Babel's admiration seems to have been giving free reign to one's imagination. Pirozhkova strings together a series of memorable portraits made even more striking by the fact that nearly everyone described was tried and murdered, like Babel himself. This English translation of the second, uncensored, Russian edition of 1989 appears with an informative, if unnecessary, introduction by Frydman. The insightful, engaging text gracefully stands on its own and would have been better served by a glossary of the many artists, intellectuals, and politicians discussed. Pirozhkova has written a moving tribute to Babel's art and his life, as well as to the agony and degrading hardships suffered by Stalin's victims and their families.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996