A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Saturday Shorts Week 12
Welcome to our weekend series for 2014. Every Saturday this year one of our staff will suggest a favorite short story from the library’s collection, all of them a great choice for quick weekend reading.
“Matyusha!” he says. “Are you my fate or are you not?”
“No,” I tell him. “And stop using such words! God has dropped us lackeys and run. Our fate is a chicken with its head cut off, our life is not worth a kopeck! Stop using such words…”
It’s a simple story, once you boil it down. Matvey’s been wronged by his boss. He leaves town and vows revenge. Some very momentous years pass, including the revolution. Matvey returns as a general in the Red army. Now that the tables have turned big boss man is going to get his comeuppance.
Only, nothing is really that simple in the Red Cavalry stories of Isaac Babel. Matvey is no Count of Monte Cristo. He’s a petty-minded brute no better or worse than his enemies. There’s no side to take and no sense to be made out of any character’s ethics. It’s just a muddy tale of cruelty and violence. A tale of revolution and war trimmed down from the grand historical to the personal scale.
Which makes “The Life of Matvey Rodionovich Pavlichenko” sound rather bleak. But Babel crafts a a very lively narrative voice. It’s told with a touch of pitch-black humor and the compelling structure of a personal anecdote. In a way, it’s actually one of the most readable and enjoyable of Babel’s stories. If you’re not familiar with this classic author, stop by and pick up our copy of The Complete Works of Isaac Babel. “Matvey” is a good place to start.
Review by Matthew