His humble family background and Yiddish roots did not do much to provide him with a joyful childhood in early twentieth century Russia. Having witnessed the anti-Semitic pogroms and mass-exodus aimed…
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However, it was his engagement with the truthful depiction of the heinous acts committed by those in high authority that landed him in trouble with Stalin that eventually led to his execution.
In Babel’s life, the loss of life and tenderness of emotion went hand in hand. Most of his literary work carries an understated preoccupation with the theme of ‘death’ and since, this preoccupation formed an indispensable part of his growing years; detachment was an inevitable consequence. His collection of thirty five short stories, by the title ‘Red Cavalry’ is the epitome of violent depictions in his work through his career. This violence and morbid details of death and murder stem from first hand accounts after being a recruit in the 1st Cavalry Army. As he floated through war-affected times, in his personal life, his several marriages and extra-marital affairs began to tell a tale of disillusionment with permanence of any sort. The only permanence that there was, was that of the insecurities of an unstable and ‘always-at-risk’ life that stayed with him for the rest of his life. As Lionel Trilling remarks about Isaac Babel: “He was captivated by the vision of two ways of being, the way of violence and the way of peace, and he was torn between the two” (Trilling, 119)
As a writer, Babel always remained in the eye of controversy. The stories from ‘Red Cavalry’ like Crossing the River Zbrucz, My first goose and Salt are all stories with diverse plots and yet are tied together with the element of death in some form.
‘Crossing the River Zbrucz’ or ‘Crossing into Poland’ begins on a morbid note, which casts its shadow over the rest of the narrative. The somber mood of the story is however offset intermittently with an odd Wordsworth-like description at times.
“Faint-hearted poverty closed in over my couch. Silence overcame all.
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