Review: Isaak Babel “Rytterarmeen” – Insaucet i görr

Review: Isaak Babel “Rytterarmeen” – Insaucet i görr

short stories




Marit Perking

Release year:


«Linguistically scattered in the quagmire of violence and blood»

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Babel follows the soldiers, commissars, and officers of the Red Army into a quagmire of violence, blood, mutilated bodies, and brutal betrayals in the battle against the Polish enemy. The text consists of short strings with no apparent connection, and appears to have been first published individually in Soviet newspapers and magazines. The book appeared in 1926.

sans plan

The personal gallery is huge and hopeless to keep track of, not least because people are alternately referred to by first name, surname, surname, or surname. It’s also a lot about named horses. Most of the combatants – on both sides – are Cossacks, professionally dressed warriors often imposingly dressed with gleaming weapons and whips.

Battles take place in places I’ve never heard of, in small villages, in Jewish settlements, in forests and in muddy fields. Both geography and chronology play little role, and much seems completely unplanned – perhaps this is how wars are experienced by those who have to wage them. Who does not stand at the headquarters and move the flags on the maps.

War Correspondent: Isaac Babel was born in Odessa in 1884, and published a novel

War Correspondent: Isaac Babel was born in Odessa in 1884. The novel “Rytterarmeen” was first published in 1926. Photo: Oct.
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This is an insight into the reality of war and its cosmic horror and apparent meaninglessness. This perspective is important, but it seems very weak at a time when we are struggling to understand the motivations, strategies, and possibilities for ending war. If war is what Babel describes, we may take cover and close our eyes.

Cossack phenomenon

Seven years ago, the October Publishing House (named after the Russian Revolution) published Babel’s second book, A Tale from Odessa. For me, it was more interesting with its larger social and cultural sphere than the “Rytterarmeen” battlefields. There, too, there was a lot of violence, blood, massacre, and crime, but Babylon also provided a space to depict the daily lives of the Jews.

In this statement, the Jew was less present. Here the Cossacks dominate the action on horseback, without us getting any depth of field on the Cossack phenomenon. For connoisseurs of Russia, Cossack is, of course, a well-known and central term. These daring knights, fighting partly for one side and partly for the other, are not so remarkable in our time. As a result, the characters in the book stand too far apart.

An unexploded grenade

An unexploded grenade

libation language

Well, we can think that the scourges of the past are associated with the animals that are now unfolding in the Ukrainian provinces. Perhaps the Wagner Group’s attitudes and methods of anarchist use of violence continue in this book, but a book’s semantically hilarious Babel fireworks is more of a museum piece than its predecessor. (“Rytterarmeen” also appeared in Norwegian in 1963, but the new version will be a more complete version.)

And so the language gives the book a high value, again excellently handled by award-winning Marit Perking. Babel always has the ability to craft amazing combinations of words, provocative metaphors, intellectual somersaults and wild leaps. Here is just a random example of such antics: “… who lived at that time in Radziwillow, this little mutilated town that looks like a shabby, weary beggar [ …] Drooling saliva from the stick catches fried chicken in the smile of the army commander … “.

Despite the blood: a rewarding and enjoyable read.

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Jabori Obasanjo

Jabori Obasanjo

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