Odessa, Mon Amour
An Essayby James Salter
Isaac Babel was stocky with a broad, kindly face and a forehead creased with horizontal lines. He wore steel-rimmed glasses, like a bookworm or an accountant, and had a soft, high-pitched voice with a slight lisp. For a time, in the 1920s, following the publication of his Red Cavalry stories, he was the most famous writer in Russia, and anything of his that appeared in print attracted great attention. Knopf published the translation of Red Cavalry in 1929, and its combination of startling beauty and great violence, delivered with an unsettling resignation, disturbed readers, including Lionel Trilling, who wrote about the exceptional talent, even genius, that it represented. Babel was a writer of the Revolution, a child of it, in fact, caught up in its idealism and equality, but over time he became disillusioned and less ardent.