The Five

The Five: A Novel of Jewish Life in Turn-of-the-Century Odessa

Vladimir Jabotinsky
Translated from the Russian and annotated by Michael R. Katz
Introduction by Michael Stanislawski
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    The Five
    Book Description:

    "The beginning of this tale of bygone days in Odessa dates to the dawn of the twentieth century. At that time we used to refer to the first years of this period as the 'springtime,' meaning a social and political awakening. For my generation, these years also coincided with our own personal springtime, in the sense that we were all in our youthful twenties. And both of these springtimes, as well as the image of our carefree Black Sea capital with acacias growing along its steep banks, are interwoven in my memory with the story of one family in which there were five children: Marusya, Marko, Lika, Serezha, and Torik."-fromThe Five

    The Fiveis an captivating novel of the decadent fin-de-siècle written by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), a controversial leader in the Zionist movement whose literary talents, until now, have largely gone unrecognized by Western readers. The author deftly paints a picture of Russia's decay and decline-a world permeated with sexuality, mystery, and intrigue. Michael R. Katz has crafted the first English-language translation of this important novel, which was written in Russian in 1935 and published a year later in Paris under the titlePyatero.

    The book is Jabotinsky's elegaic paean to the Odessa of his youth, a place that no longer exists. It tells the story of an upper-middle-class Jewish family, the Milgroms, at the turn of the century. It follows five siblings as they change, mature, and come to accept their places in a rapidly evolving world. With flashes of humor, Jabotinsky captures the ferment of the time as reflected in political, social, artistic, and spiritual developments. He depicts with nostalgia the excitement of life in old Odessa and comments poignantly on the failure of the dream of Jewish assimilation within the Russian empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7163-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Michael R. Katz
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Michael Stanislawski

    This first-ever translation into English of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Russian-language novelPyatero(The Five) is a milestone in Jewish literary and political history, for it makes available to readers with no access to the original (or access only to the heavily censored and misleading Hebrew translation), a fascinating and crucial source in the development of modern Jewish literature, modern Jewish politics, and perhaps most broadly, what we might call modern Jewish self-fashioning.

    Vladimir Jabotinsky was arguably the most controversial Jewish leader and public personality of the twentieth century. Born into the highly russified Jewish upper-middle class of Odessa, Jabotinsky at first...

  5. Principal Characters
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Instead of a Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
  7. I Youth
    (pp. 3-6)

    The first time I saw Madame Milgrom and her elder daughter was at the premiere of the operaMonna Vanna¹ in our municipal theater. They were sitting in a box not far from my seat in the stalls; three other people were with them, members of some other family. I noticed them for a reason that was both complimentary and highly uncomplimentary to my own self-esteem. It all began when a young colleague from the newspaper office sitting next to me, a person who wrote about lowlife and the port, remarked over the noise in the auditorium, which was filling...

  8. II Serezha
    (pp. 7-12)

    Someone told me that the redhead’s last name was Milgrom; and, as I was leaving the theater, I recalled that I was already acquainted with one member of that family.

    We had met in the summer, not too long before. I was visiting some acquaintances who were spending the last days of August at their dacha near Langeron. One morning, while my hosts were still asleep, I went down to take a swim and then decided to go rowing for a bit. My friends had a flat-bottomed boat with two sets of oars; somehow I managed to maneuver the boat...

  9. III In the Literary Circle
    (pp. 13-19)

    On Saturday, after the concert at the literary-artistic circle, as the workers were moving chairs away to allow for dancing in the vineyard hall, Marusya, holding her mother by the sleeve, led her up to me and said:

    “This woman wishes to make your acquaintance, but she’s too shy: Anna Mikhailovna Milgrom. By the way, I must also introduce myself: I’m her daughter, but she’s not in the least to blame.”

    Anna Mikhailovna extended her hand while Marusya admonished her in a stage whisper: “Behave yourself.” Then she went off to choose a dancing partner; the rule according to which...

  10. IV Around Marusya
    (pp. 20-25)

    I soon became a frequent guest in their house; strange to say, even as this was happening, at first I seemed to lose sight of the actual inhabitants of the house—mother, father, and children. They were all submerged into a motley and noisy flock of Marusya’s “sightseers.” Many weeks passed before, through this throng of people, I was once again able to distinguish Marusya and the rest of her family.

    In my whole life, neither before nor after, have I ever seen a more hospitable household. This was not Russian hospitality, actively cordial, warmly welcoming. Rather, it was more...

  11. V The World of Business
    (pp. 26-31)

    Of course, in addition to the eldest daughter and her assembled throng, there was another kind of life going on in this household; however, it seemed very much pushed into the background. Ignats Albertovich spoke about himself, his wife, and the guests who came to see them, not Marusya, in the following manner: “We’re the second set …” Meanwhile, it turned out that in the subsequent course of events in this cheerful and distressing story the more visible roles fell to those formerly in the background; therefore they deserve to be mentioned here.

    There were Nyura and Nyuta—mother and...

  12. VI Lika
    (pp. 32-37)

    The Milgroms spent their summers in Srednii Fontan. Their dacha was located near the tenth railway station: it’s enough merely to mention this address to an old native of Odessa for it to summon from oblivion before the mind’s eye one of the most typical scenes of our way of life at that time.

    If I were commissioned to write a monograph about the tenth station, I’d begin from afar, with an extremely poetic subject. Many times before, I’d say, artists have sung the praises of the mysterious captivating power of the nocturnal silver luminary, to which, they say, the...

  13. VII Marko
    (pp. 38-43)

    Before the departure for the dacha an important event occurred—Marko received, at long last, his high school diploma. Among those who graduated that year were several incorrigible lads who’d been left back along with him; consequently, their emancipation from the yoke of the gymnasium was celebrated with extraordinary fanfare. My colleague Shtrok, king of police reporting in Odessa and the south of Russia, brought into the newsroom a rapturous description of this bacchanalia; it was not for publication, of course, but simply on principle, so that no one at the paper would forget that Shtrok knew absolutely everything. The...

  14. VIII My Porter
    (pp. 44-48)

    Months passed. I came and went, often losing sight of the Milgrom family for awhile. From time to time someone fired a shot at a governor or assassinated a minister; it’s astonishing the amount of unmitigated joy with which this kind of news was received by our entire society: such unanimity in an analogous situation would now be inconceivable—besides, a fully analogous condition simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. But, for the purposes of our story, only one aspect of these events is noteworthy: that the “springtime”—from the view-point of outside observers such as I was, at first so...

  15. IX The Alien
    (pp. 49-55)

    I was beginning a career in public service: Secretary in the Temporary Administration of the Society of Sanatorium Colonies and Other Hygienic-Dietary Institutions for the Treatment and Education of Students Suffering from Bad Health from the Indigent Jewish Population in the City of Odessa and its Surrounding Areas. It’s true: that’s really what my position was called; in my youth for a while I was able to say the entire title in one breath. This society also emerged in part with a seditious design: under the guise of “hygienic-dietary institutions” one could organize a program of gymnastics and, under the...

  16. X Along Deribasov Street
    (pp. 56-61)

    This episode occurred on Deribasov Street, about two years after the beginning of our story.

    At that time our editorial office was located at the upper end of the street, in the passageway next to Cathedral Square. Every day on my way to work would I walk the entire length of the street, the queen of streets in the whole world. It’s impossible to prove by argument why it was the queen of streets: almost all the houses along both sides, as I recall, had two stories; the architecture was, for the most part, unexceptional, without any important monuments. But...

  17. XI A Many-Sided Soul
    (pp. 62-67)

    There was a picture postcard and a letter from Vologda waiting for me in the editorial office. While tearing open the letter’s envelope, I also examined the postcard. The postmark was from town; the colored picture depicted a gaunt, nasty lady beating her husband with a large wooden spoon. Underneath was printed in ink, without signature, in block letters, “This is what will happen to you, too, because of your article about cardsharps.” In fact, one week earlier I’d written that several young people had appeared in town who were cheating at cards, some even wearing students’ double-breasted jackets, and...

  18. XII The Arsenal on Moldavanka
    (pp. 68-75)

    I enticed Serezha to come to my place and without any further ado subjected him to the most brutal interrogation. At first he feigned ignorance and asked:

    “What’s the problem? Why shouldn’t one fleece that wealthy guy? And what does it matter how one fleeces him?”

    “Drop the metaphysics. I’m asking you: are you or are you not working with this gang?”

    “Do I have to tell the truth?”

    “The whole truth!”

    “Well then, at the present time I’m just trying to get a better look at them. Three times or so I’ve played quite a game of faro in...

  19. XIII Something Like the Decameron
    (pp. 76-82)

    In the course of events determining Marusya’s fate, I particularly recall one summer night, initially at sea and then on the Langeron. It will be difficult to describe it so that not one word will be painful: for the sake of Marusya’s memory I don’t want to say anything clumsy or awkward. She had a way of making everything turn out “nicely” (as I’ve said before), even—for its time—the most eccentric recklessness, but it won’t be easy to preserve this aspect in my account; I’m very much afraid of these next two chapters, but I have to proceed....

  20. XIV Inserted Chapter, Not Intended for the Reader
    (pp. 83-88)

    Honestly, I’m writing this chapter out of pure cowardice. Three times I’ve begun to narrate the continuation of that night, but I’ve found it very difficult; I’m too timid. I just tore up three pages of paper. For a break, I’ll write about something different. One critic, leafing through one of my works, reproached me for a major deficiency: there’s no description of nature. That was about ten years ago, but my pride was hurt: so I must make an attempt. Such a chapter, of course, is not intended for the reader: without doubt, the reader doesn’t read descriptions of...

  21. XV Confession on Langeron
    (pp. 89-96)

    The moon rose late over the republic of Lukaniya, a gibbous moon, but unusually bright.

    It was hard to make our way through the thick bushes, wild pear and olive trees, acacia, elder, and bird cherry. The acacia had already faded; only a hint of its former dominion remained in the bluish moonlit silence. It was so deserted, as if the whole world had forgotten all about Lukaniya; even during the day no one came here. In fact, now the tall, silky grasses filled the bottom of the shallow gully, while during my time there it was always trampled down....

  22. XVI Signor and Mademoiselle
    (pp. 97-105)

    In the autumn of that year I found myself in Bern; I arrived there from Italy, where I had spent a very amusing month.

    During September Nicholas II was expected to pay a state visit to the Italian king; when the solemn announcement of this event was made at the parliament, someone on the extreme left cried out: “Forewarn St. Petersburg that we will heckle him!” The entire right-thinking half of the Palazzo Montecitorio¹ replied with guffaws at such boasting. Afterwards it was said that it was precisely this outburst of merriment that played the decisive role: this one deputy’s...

  23. XVII The Godseeker
    (pp. 106-114)

    I left Switzerland but spent a long time abroad and wound up in St. Petersburg just before the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.

    Marko was now studying Sanskrit, not Persian, and living in student rooms. I don’t remember if he was still a vegetarian, but his soul was filled with a new passion—he attended meetings of a religious-philosophical society. He was dropping the names of bishops, monks, and priests as if I was supposed to know who they all were. Piles of exotic books were stacked in his room and he entertained me with conversations about monastic structure, autocephaly,...

  24. XVIII Potemkin Day
    (pp. 115-121)

    A year later I recall an important and horrible day; all of Odessa and all of Russia recall it, too.

    I spent the autumn, winter, and spring on trains, but occasionally I came home and would visit Anna Mikhailovna. The good Lord had sent her some respite. Lika was a student (in Paris, where she’d transferred from Bern); she wrote infrequently and coldly, but she was, thank heavens, there, and not here. Serezha was finishing his third year at the university and was leading a multifaceted existence but, at least, outside the field of vision of my colleague Shtrok.


  25. XIX Potemkin Night
    (pp. 122-129)

    That evening at home, Samoilo stopped in to see me: he’d also happened to come to town to make some purchases for his store and had arrived for the holiday. It was his first time at my place; he refused to sit down; his whole group of friends was waiting for him outside; they’d decided to go to the park and observe from the cliff what was going to take place in the harbor; in town they were saying that “something was going to take place.” Everyone was there already, only Serezha, the rascal, had gone to the harbor for...

  26. XX The Wrong Way
    (pp. 130-135)

    I said that Anna Mikhailovna’s tale was almost like that of Niobe; now I’ve reached the story of the first arrow shot by a wicked deity. I don’t recall in precisely which year it occurred; I only know that it was during the winter, near the very end of it, almost at the beginning of St. Petersburg spring when the ice on the Neva was just starting to break up.

    Of course, I myself didn’t witness it. I’m writing from the testimony of two women: the first was an eyewitness (in part: even she didn’t see the end of it,...

  27. XXI Broad Jewish Natures
    (pp. 136-141)

    It had become dark and uncomfortable in Anna Mikhailovna’s house. Ignats Albertovich had begun to stoop noticeably; he said that it was written somewhere in the Midrash¹—or, perhaps it was in the sayings of the old Volynian sages: man has two mothers. The first is his birth mother and the second, mother earth. When he’s little, he listens to his first mother’s voice, but she’s taller than he is, so he has to lift his head up; at the approach of old age, his second mother begins talking to him, and the man has to lean over to hear...

  28. XXII One More Confession
    (pp. 142-147)

    That evening I went to talk to Serezha. Torik had informed me that his parents were going to the opera, that he himself would also leave, and there’d be no one at home to interfere; Serezha wouldn’t be going out before ten p.m. In fact, I heard Serezha’s voice as I entered the hallway: he was playing the piano and singing.

    “My friend brought back a lovely little ditty from Paris,” he said to me, beaming. “Janneton prend sa faucille pour aller couper les jones.”¹ They say it’s a very old song. I’ve been sweating over it for an hour;...

  29. XXIII Visiting Marusya
    (pp. 148-156)

    I saw Marusya only one more time (although once afterwards I planned to visit her but was late). I had a lecture in Akerman, and from there Samoilo and Marusya took me across the estuary to their house in Ovidiopol.

    I found myself almost writing: “I didn’t recognize her.” That wouldn’t be true: Marusya hadn’t changed at all. What I “didn’t recognize” wasn’t the old Marusya I’d known before but the new one I’d unconsciously expected to find in this new setting. Before our meeting, apparently, I’d been thinking thus: she must be missing something here that she’d grown used...

  30. XXIV Mademoiselle and Signor
    (pp. 157-164)

    That year Lina Cavalieri¹ came to St. Petersburg on tour; someone invited me to enjoy a performance of this famous beauty, either inLakméorThais. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t just someone. It was an old friend I’ve mentioned twice before in this tale, without naming him; and even now I don’t want to reveal his name. It was he who once said to me that the stumpy “dregs,” the girlfriends of the revolutionary external students of 1902, were disguised daughters of the biblical Judith; and it was he who, a year or even less after that...

  31. XXV Gomorrah
    (pp. 165-172)

    The Turks, it seems, even to the present (I’ve boasted about this before), refer to Odessa in their official documents as Khodzha-bei, the ancient name of this location on the shores of the Black Sea. Here in town that name has been preserved only in the designation of one estuary: the Khadzhi-bei. On it, in the summer of 1909 approximately, my beloved Serezha met his end; that is to say, he remained alive in the technical sense, and, while his parents still lived, of course, he was not abandoned; I think he won’t ever be abandoned as long as Torik...

  32. XXVI Something Bad
    (pp. 173-179)

    The letter, under the influence of which I was preparing to visit Marusya again, was long and confused. Of course, I no longer remember its exact words, and there’s no reason to pretend that I do; nevertheless, it’s still so vivid in my memory, that I’ll try to recollect not only its ideas but also the sound of the letter accurately.

    “Dear friend, dear friend, for some reason I don’t feel quite right. Samoilo’s a sweetheart, a fine soul, and a gentleman, not commonly found; he even knows how to do something that no one else can do—to fall...

  33. XXVII The End of Marusya
    (pp. 180-187)

    I reconstructed the circumstances of this event immediately on site—I arrived in Ovidiopol one day after it happened. I was helped by our reporter Shtrok who was specially dispatched to cover it. He was so shaken, he felt the grief so personally, that for once in his life he forgot all embellishments and flourishes; he simply interrogated everyone possible and conveyed everything to me in detail. There was only one eyewitness, that Greek neighbor named Kalliopa Nestorovna, and even she couldn’t see everything—the windows of her apartment and those of Samoilo Kozodoi’s on the second floor didn’t face...

  34. XXVIII The Beginning of Torik
    (pp. 188-196)

    Half of Odessa came to the funeral: there were six carriages with wreaths and almost a full page of announcements in the newspaper. No one ever suspected that so many people had heard of Marusya. Our editor who’d never set eyes on her, and who generally liked to be thought of as an unfeeling man, also attended and then wrote in the paper (although he’d long since stopped writing): “It seemed as if complete strangers showed up, not only to pay their respects to the majesty of her self-sacrifice but simply to bid farewell to this splendid embodiment of youth,...

  35. XXIX L’envoi
    (pp. 197-202)

    I’ll probably never get to see Odessa again. It’s a pity, because I love the place. I was indifferent to Russia even in my youth: I recall that I always got pleasantly agitated when leaving for Europe and would return only reluctantly. But Odessa—that’s another matter: arriving at the Razdelnaya Station, I would already begin to be joyfully excited. If I arrived nowadays, my hands would probably tremble. I’m not indifferent only to Russia; in general I’m not really “attached” to any country; at one time I was in love with Rome, and it lasted a long time, but...

  36. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 203-204)