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The don died in 1975, and pretty soon his own belief in a measured imagination seemed expendable in a world that was moving closer and closer to chaos.
Whereas he’d talked about literature day and night with his first wife, Zhenya, while he was with her in Batum, would read his stories to her until they were burnt into her heart and she could recite them twenty years later, he wouldn’t even show his manuscripts to his second wife, Antonina.
The secret police had moved him and his manuscripts to their own “dacha” in the middle of Moscow, otherwise known as the Lubyanka.
And when Lionel Trilling wrote about him sixteen years later, his death had become only one more enigma in a land of enigmas.
Huck’s own heart, like Babel’s, is a “battleground” of competing ideas and obligations. Yet whatever Huck’s chicanery, we never doubt his essential goodness and his reverence for the godlike Mississippi, a river that equips him with language and a sense of wonder.
But there are no river gods on the ride to Poland, only Cossacks and their rituals of slaughter.
There were constant sightings of Babel, campmates who swore he was still alive. It was the United States that had to reinvent Babel in the person of Lionel Trilling, a godlike figure on Columbia’s campus. And here he was writing about Isaac Babel, the poet of violence, who touched upon a primitive, amoral madness and seemed deeply ambivalent about it.