‘Natasha and other stories’ by David Bezmozgis. A homage to Babel?

This collection of short stories was surprisingly good. The debut work of a novelist who had emigrated from Latvia as a boy, it really captured the culture of a group of Jews who had left the Soviet Union. The Jewish people in question were neither heroes, nor villains- but they were survivors. Some were canny, several were flawed, but it was hard not to empathise with their varied and colourful predicaments.

David Bezmozgis does seem to have achieved his own voice, but it is hard not to see that he was conscious of the need to pay homage to at least one great Jewish writer of the past. In the final story, which is moving, he wrote about a character thus:

“A real Odessa character, right out of the pages of Babel. He had even grown up on Babel’s street. As a young boy Itzik had carted watermelons for Babel’s uncle. What hadn’t he done in this life?”

Isaac Babel had written short stories, as well as plays. This reference to Babel stood out because Bezmozgis does not make many other references to other authors in the stories in question- he seems to avoid postmodernism in favour of more traditional prose tales.

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