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1920 Diary

1920 Diary

Isaac Babel
Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Carol J. Avins
Translated by H.T. Willetts
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    1920 Diary
    Book Description:

    The Russian writer Isaac Babel (1894-1940) is widely acknowledged to be one of the great masters of twentieth-century literature, hailed as a genius by such critics as Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe. The work for which he is best known is a cycle of stories calledRed Cavalry, which depicts the exploits of the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 and is based on Babel's experiences as he rode with the Cossacks during the campaign. Babel kept a diary during this period, in which he recorded the devastation of the war, the extreme cruelty of the Polish and Red armies alike toward the Jewish population in the Ukraine and eastern Poland, and his own conflicted role as both Soviet revolutionary and Jew. The1920 Diary, a vital source forRed Cavalryas well as a compelling narrative, is now published in English for the first time.The1920 Diaryis the most significant contemporary account of the tragedy of Eastern European Jewry during this period. TheDiaryalso yields important insights into Babel's personal evolution, showing his youthful curiosity and his anguish as, frequently concealing his own Jewish identity, he mingled with the victimized Jews of the region's shtetls and with his Cossack comrades. Finally, theDiarysheds light on Babel's artistic development, revealing the path from observations recorded in excitement and despair to the painstakingly crafted narratives of theRed Cavalrycycle.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17330-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Editor’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Editor’s Note on the Translation
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Map of Poland in the Era of the Polish-Soviet War
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  7. Map of Babel’s Route with the First Cavalry Army
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  8. Introduction: Isaac Babel’s “Red Cavalry” Diary
    (pp. xvii-lviii)

    The protocol drawn up by secret police agents at the time of Isaac Babel’s arrest on 15 May 1939 reads as follows: “1) various manuscripts—15 folders; 2) notebooks—11 items; 3) pads with notes—7 items.” The confiscated writings included diaries, letters, and drafts of many stories—the fruits of intensive work during a decade in which Babel published little and silence was suspect. The writer (shot eight months later) never emerged from prison; those manuscripts (probably burned) never emerged from the files of what was then called the nkvd.¹ But not all of Babel’s unpublished writing was lost,...

  9. 1920 Diary
    (pp. 1-100)

    Morning in the train, came for tunic and boots. I’m sleeping with Zhukov, Topolnik, it’s filthy, morning sun in my eyes, railroad-car filth. Lanky Zhukov, gluttonous Topolnik, the whole editorial team—unbelievably filthy fellows.

    Revolting tea in borrowed mess tins. Letters home, packets for Yugrosta, interview with Pollak, operation to get control of Novograd, discipline in the Polish army is getting weaker, Polish White Guard literature, booklets of cigarette paper, matches, erstwhile (Ukrainian) Jews, commissars, all of it stupid, malicious, feeble, incompetent, and extraordinarily unconvincing. Mikhailov’s extracts from Polish newspapers.

    The kitchen on the train, fat soldiers with florid faces,...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Appendix: Babel’s Publications in the Red Cavalryman
    (pp. 101-108)
  12. Notes to Babel’s Texts
    (pp. 109-126)