In response to:
Five Minutes of Life from the July 31, 1969 issue
To the Editors:
First let me thank you and V.S. Pritchett [NYR, July 31] for the review of two recent collections of letters and stories by Isaac Babel. However, I think some factual errors in the text of the review should be pointed out, for the record. Some of these errors seem to be due to a confusion of the two collections: namely, The Lonely Years: 1925-1939, translated by Andrew MacAndrew and published in 1964 (the bulk of this volume is made up of letters, but it also contains eight stories, four of which, incidentally, were translated by Max Hayward); and You Must Know Everything: Stories 1915-1937, translated by Max Hayward and published on July 14, 1969.
- Speaking of Babel, the review says, “Not until 1964 was he rehabilitated and there was a public celebration of his genius.” While it is true that there was a 1964 celebration in Moscow honoring Babel (see You Must Know Everything), his official political rehabilitation occurred ten years earlier, in 1954, as is explained in the Introduction to The Lonely Years.
- Speaking of Babel’s correspondence, the review states that “letters written to his first family who were in Brussels and Paris have been recovered.” All the letters published in The Lonely Years are addressed to Babel’s mother and sister, who were living in Brussels, not to my mother or myself.
A number of confusions occur in the following sentence: “The MacAndrew edition contains his letters and two early stories, including the famous ‘My First Fee’: the Max Hayward edition which first appeared in 1964 also contains early work like ‘An Evening at the Empress’s’ and ‘The Chinaman.”‘ As I mention above, the MacAndrew edition (1964) contains eight stories, not two. There is no Max Hayward edition dated 1964: the stories “An Evening at the Empress’s” and “The Chinaman” are included in You Must Know Everything, published in 1969.
The review states: “In spite of biographical criticisms made by Nathalie Babel, the edition of her father’s stories introduced by Lionel Trilling in 1955 is important.” It should be understood that my biographical critcisms were never meant to imply that this collection is not “important.” The Trilling collection was in fact the first postwar republication of Babel’s work in any language and as such is extremely “important.”
The review says that Babel’s semi-official interview of 1937 “appears verbatim in MacAndrew’s volume.” It was translated, however, by Max Hayward and appears in You Must Know Everything (1969).
New York City
December 4, 1969