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Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel; translated by Boris Dralyuk

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Isaac Babel’s works are considered  masterpieces in Russian Literature. A well known short story writer, playwright and journalist, Babel came into prominence in the 1920s when he joined the 1st Cavalry Army as a correspondent to cover the Polish- Soviet war. A Russian-Jew, Babel wrote about the dark, harsh realities of war and about the prejudices that were well hidden under the regimented and flawless persona of the Red Army. Extremely well received during his lifetime, Isaac Babel enjoyed the freedom of expression inspite of the mass censorship and control of the Communist government. It was during Stalin’s time that Babel came under much criticism, leading to his murder in 1940.

Isaac’s work has been translated into English earlier and this one by Boris Dralyuk is excellent. Boris Dralyuk, a lecturer in Russian at the University of St. Andrews wanted to listen carefully to Babel’s voice, and understand the depth of the prose in order to render the true essence and intensity of his words.

The use of powerful language, transports the reader to the battlefront, with the scent of blood and dead horses and blown up bridges. Babel’s description of the field of scarlet poppies, as the Red Army moves to Novograd, paints a vivid picture. The serenity of the natural beauty around is shattered as Babel uses similes such as one comparing the orange sun with a severed head.Hints of anti-semitism and human rights violation shade the powerful narrative. Babel writes about the ransacking of a Catholic church, of writing  letters for comrades to their families and the vast contrast between the lives across the frontiers. The story of Prishchepa, a Kuban Cossack,who left the Whites, is bone-chilling. His family killed by the Whites, his home ransacked by the villagers , and Prishchepa returns with the victorious Reds to pick up the pieces and take back what was his.

The effects of war are manyfold and Babel’s prolific mastery with the pen, spreads them out before the reader. The harshness and jubilations of the vanquished and the victor can be felt as the pages turn. The intensity of his words is not lost in Boris Dralyuk’s translation. Very painstakingly, Dralyuk manages to present the picture as it was.

This book is not up everyone’s alley. For those intrigued by the Soviet army’s conquests or those with an interest in  factual war writing, do read. Isaac Babel was one of the many victims of a communist totalitarian regime under Stalin, that tried to control and curb literary freedom in the Soviet Union.  What remains of his work, deftly showcases his brilliance as a writer.

 

 

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About artikabakshi

Artika Aurora Bakshi Artika co-manages thegoodbookcorner.com. She comes from a family of lawyers and has a master's degree in International Banking & Finance. Currently based in Sri Lanka, she teaches Commerce and History on a part-time basis at an international school and enjoys being part of the literary scene in Sri Lanka. A regular at the Galle Literary Festival and other literary events in Sri Lanka, Artika's articles and book reviews have featured in the Daily Mirror and Daily News and various blogs, such as, talkingcranes.com, sikhchic.com, sikhnet.com. She is actively involved with SAARC Women's Association of Sri Lanka. An avid reader, Artika runs an online book club with a membership base of over 600 members. Her passion for reading has led her to helping other writers with their manuscripts. Her short stories have been published online and she is also working on her own novel. Artika has published My Little Sikh Handbook and is currently working on her second children's book, with Sikhism as its central theme. You can reach Artika at bakshiartika@gmail.com .

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2015 by in Book Reviews, Non Fiction, translation and tagged , , , , .
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