Review: Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel

War’s mess and muddle, the brutality and the inanity of fighting few have better captured this than Isaac Babel, who was a journalist with the Soviet First Cavalry Army. His unflinching portrayal of the murderous havoc of battle is offset by an unexpected and wry humour: having seen the fighting up close, Babel is able to find the funny side of war while depicting its bloody side in all its mesmerising and casual violence. The lyricism and bitterness that characterise the thirty-five short stories of Red Cavalry are stunningly reproduced in this new translation by the award-winning Boris Dralyuk.

Written in the 1920s, and based on his personal diaries and experiences during the Polish-Soviet war, Red Cavalry almost cost Isaac Babel his life. This is one of the most important things the reader should learn about the Red Cavalry.In Soviet Russia, literature could, in fact, kill… Isaac Babel’s short stories painted a great war far different from the propaganda reels of the Soviet regime and this made Red Cavalry undesirable. Legendary Soviet marshall Budyonny, under whom Babel served during the war and whose army was described on the pages of Red Cavalry, demanded the author’s execution.

Good deeds are done by good men. The revolution is the good deed of good men. But good men do not kill. So the revolution is the work of bad men. But the Poles, too, are bad men. So who will tell Gedali where’s the revolution and where’s the counter revolution?

Brutal cossacks, desecrated churches, Polish peasants hiding their horses in the forests, impoverished jews, acts of cowardice and senseless atrocities… Red Cavalry is a haunting account of a conflict that is oftentimes overlooked and largely unknown to those living beyond Eastern Europe. Babel’s majestic prose paints the wartime violence with a truly poetic beauty.

Red Cavalry was graciously provided by Steerforth Press through NetGalley. 

Overall rating : 4*

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Review: Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel

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