Plenty has been written about Isaac Babel. Some consider him to be a romantic writer, while others call him a realist. Still others see him to be an author of epics. To some he was a novelist of genius, while to others he was a master of the short story. Those disaffected by the October Revolution focused on Babel’s disappearance in the Gulag. Babel has been compared with Maxim Gorky, Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov and is considered to be one of the more enigmatic figures of Russian literature. Still, no matter the “micro” interpretations, all critics agreed that, in the larger scheme of things, Babel was an extremely talented writer whose works have had a significant influence on the course of literary history.
Babel was born on July 13, 1894, in the bright and merry town of Odessa, the Ukrainian town distinguished by its spirit of enterprise and soon to be famous as a birthplace for Soviet satire. Several other “greats” of Soviet literature came from Odessa, including Konstantin Paustovsky, Ilya Ilf and Valentin Katayev. Odessa, Babel’s cultural tradition, his background, the fact that he was a Jew and a member of intelligentsia, all greatly influenced his fiction.
A man of broad education, Babel graduated from an elite gymnasium and university. In his “Autobiography,” written in 1904, Babel describes his childhood and school years:
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