The Lonely Years, 1925–1939:

The Unpublished Stories and Correspondence

The Lonely Years, a collection of private correspondence, is essential to an understanding of Isaac Babel’s life and works. Babel rose to fame in 1920s Russia for such books as Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories. But as Stalin’s regime grew repressive, he found it increasingly difficult to write or publish. He was finally arrested in 1939, never to be heard from again. Alternately tender and biting, and accompanied by nine stories from the “lonely years,” these letters show an individual laboring against all odds to remain true to his craft and ideals. This edition contains a new introduction, based on previously unreleased information from the KGB files.


In what probably qualifies as both an accomplishment and a shortcoming, the movie makes you want to read Babel’s writing instead. [In reference to the new film Finding Babel.]
The New York Times


I think that’s why each fresh wave of students that’s introduced to Babel is shocked by it. They’ve never read anything like it in their lives. They’re thrown off balance, and then eventually they become obsessed with Babel.
Val Vinokur, Professor at the New School and author of The Essential Fictions of Isaac Babel


Babel is one of the literary masters of our century.
Irving Howe, The New Republic

Isaac Babel was arguably the greatest Russian Jewish author of the past century. Several of his works are considered great classics of Russian literature, including Odessa Tales and Red Cavalry. He was a celebrity during his life, and avoided censorship despite the Soviet suspicion of Jews by remaining loyal to the the Communist Party. However, his life was spotted with vices and infidelities, one of which led to his downfall: he was executed during Stalin’s Great Purge due to his affair with the wife of an NKVD chief. He was declared a “nonperson” after his death, and all mentions of his name and works were excised from textbooks and other written material. His collected works could only be published after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Nathalie Babel (19292005) was the daughter of Isaac Babel, the great Russian-Jewish writer. She was born in Paris to Isaac’s long-suffering first wife, Evgenia Gronfein. Although Nathalie’s only personal memory of Isaac was a brief moment when she was five years old, she grew up to become the most dedicated scholar of his work, going on to edit volumes of his letters and stories, including The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (Norton, 2002), a Koret Jewish Book Award winner. Nathalie was also an accomplished scholar of Slavic studies more broadly. She had degrees from the Sorbonne and Columbia and taught at Barnard College and universities in Texas, California, and Ottawa.

Andrew R. MacAndrew translated many classic Russian novels into English during the latter half of the twentieth century. He was a longtime professor at the University of Virginia.

Harry Maxwell “Max” Hayward was born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford University and the Charles University of Prague. After World War II, during which he worked at the British embassy in Moscow, Hayward returned to Oxford to teach Russian. He taught at Oxford for most of the rest of his life while simultaneously translating dozens of works from the Russian, beginning with the formidable Doctor Zhivago. In 1971, he received the PEN Translation Prize in recognition of his impressive output. The historian Maurice Friedberg called him “the best and most prolific translator of Russian prose into English since Constance Garnett.”