London and New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929. Single volume, measuring 7.5 x 5 inches: x, 213, . Original orange and black pictorial cloth, original unclipped red and black pictorial dust jacket, top edge stained red. Pictorial title page printed in red and black. Trivial scratch to front panel, tiny chips to jacket corners.
First American edition, and first English translation, of Isaac Babel’s Cossack stories, based on his military service during the 1920 Russian invasion of Poland. Born into a struggling Jewish merchant family in Odessa, Babel was an observer and outsider all his life, a target of religious prejudice and political suspicion. With Maxim Gorky’s encouragement, he began to publish fiction shortly before the revolution. In 1920, Babel was assigned to Budyonny’s cavalry during the Russo-Polish War, a brutal experience that inspired the stories of Red Cavalry: “a monstrous and inconceivable Russia tramped on either side of the carriages in bast shoes, like a multitude of bugs swarming in clothes. . . . it jumped on the steps of our train and fell back, knocked down by the butt-ends of our rifles; it snorted and scrabbled and flowed on in silence. At the twelfth verst, when I had no potatoes left I flung Trotsky’s leaflets at them.” Babel’s stories were widely hailed in Russia and abroad, but his international reputation did not prevent his fall from favor with the Stalinist regime: in 1934, he ironically observed that he was perfecting “the genre of silence.” In 1939, he was arrested and officially expunged from Soviet literary history; in 1940, Babel was executed as a terrorist and spy. Knopf published Red Cavalry in both London and New York: the translation is identical in both editions, following the 1928 third Russian edition, although John Harland is credited as translator in the London edition, and Nadia Helstein in the New York edition. A very nearly fine example of a landmark of Russian literature, the best copy we have ever seen, in an unfaded jacket.