In between wars are other wars. Men fight in them all, whatever is available. Between World War I and World War II came the Russian revolution and civil war.  Isaac Babel was a glasses-wearing Jewish communist, sent as a reporter to ride with the Red armies as they fought the Whites in 1920; the war had been going on for three years by then.  Already a published writer,  by Maxim Gorky no less, the articles he dashed off appeared in various communist newspapers and magazines, including Vladimir Mayakovsky’s “LEF.” In 1924 many which were to become Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories were collected and published in Russia.  The current volume, wonderfully translated by Peter Constantine, with an informative preface by Babel’s daughter, Nathalie Babel Brown, is copyrighted 2002.

Not a novel, or even connected short-stories, Red Cavalry is a collection of sharp, dashed-off vignettes of war, full of unexpected images, ugliness, “courage and rough-and-ready mirth.”   There are sketches of Chiefs of Staff, Commanders of the Army, volunteers in a machine gun squad, old Jews murdered by the Poles, Polish peasants murdering aristocratic overlords. Women appear as prostitutes, as daughters bewailing the death of a father, as nurses, as washerwomen on a troop train. There are deserters and enthusiastic volunteers, men who had been circus acrobats, factory workers, or peasant farmers. Men so exhausted that their horses, tied to their sleeping hands, drag them hundreds of yards before waking.

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