A celebrated writer returns to his hometown of Odessa, pondering a deal with the secret police, pining for a daughter living abroad, and hoping to pen one last homage to his past. Isaac Babel, the world famous spinner of tales about Cossacks and gangsters, arrives in Odessa to be treated for asthma - and perhaps help a condemned prisoner to escape. Or is it Babel himself who intends to escape? For six decades our only record of Babel's visit has been the contents of letters and postcards sent abroad to his mother and sister. In King of Odessa, Robert A. Rosenstone imagines a version of this visit and the novel Babel wrote during those weeks. His Babel is concerned with more than literary plots as he contemplates an affair with an actress who may be a police spy, and also ruminates on his past - the horrifying 1905 pogrom, his famous rides with the Cossacks that inspired Red Calvary, and above all his complicated relationships with women. Throughout the novel Rosenstone captures Babel's lively wit, his exhaustion with fame and the Soviet system, and his infectious charm. This would prove to be Babel's last visit to Odessa. Three years later, he was arrested as a spy and executed. Rosenstone, the acclaimed biographer of writer and activist John Reed, mixes historical facts and fiction with the talent of a gifted storyteller. The result is a captivating exploration of a great writer surrounded by history and on the brink of falling out of it forever.
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 499 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
"A fresh and fascinating debut that manages both to evoke the topsy-turvy atmosphere of Stalinist Russia and to put together a pretty fair replica of Babel's prose."
"[H]ow gracefully Rosenstone's novel ropes a reader in, salting the story with just enough flashbacks to enthrall Babel cognoscenti and the Babel ignorami alike. It's an astonishingly confident first novel from a historian with a whole new career ahead of him." --San Francisco Chronicle
"In an impressive effort of literary boldness, historian Robert A. Rosenstone fills in some of the blanks in Babel's life and work in a first novel, King of Odessa. With irreverent humor, textured descriptions and sensitive attention to detail, Rosenstone imaginatively constructs Babel's world." --The Jewish Week