Babel’s Red Cavalry: Story, History, and the Hidden Plot, with Gregory (Grisha) Freidin

Recorded Live Via Zoom on March 3, 2022


"The slim volume of Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry(1926) contains thirty-five short stories set in the Soviet-Polish War of 1920, but its modest size belies its significance. The pieces roughly follow the chronological order of the 1920 campaign and are threaded together by a first-person narrator, some secondary figures, and setting. Compact, the book casts a vast shadow, more typical of a novel or a war epic. As a work of art, it has remained unique. Neither Russian nor Russian Jewish literature can be imagined without its intense smells and a lush palette, its stunning scenes of violence, lust and debasement, its profound humanity, and its mythic and apocalyptic grandeur. No history of the Russian revolution is complete without it. I propose that Red Cavalry stories, powerful yet fragmented as they may appear at first, project a deeper plot, one that re-articulates the book’s overall story in a meaningful and striking fashion. I hope to offer a reading to ferret it out."-Gregory (Grisha) Freidin

Gregory (Grisha) Freidin was Professor of Russian at Stanford University (1978–2015). He is the author of a critical biography of Osip Mandelstam, A Coat of Many Colors; editor and contributor: Russian Culture in Transition, Isaac Babel’s Selected Writings (Norton Critical Edition), The Enigma of Isaac Babel; with Victoria E. Bonnell and Ann Cooper, Russia on the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the 1991 Coup; translator: Khrushchev Remembers (1970, with Strobe Talbott), The American Federalist (Американские федералисты, 1990). Current projects include Messiah from Odessa: Isaac Babel. A Critical Biography (Reaktion Books, UK, EDP: 2024).

Presented as part of the Yiddish Book Center’s 2022 Great Jewish Books Club. Learn more about the Book Club here:


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