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This article is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

‘Out of the Deep Freeze’
Literature from The Other Europe
David Herman
The last twenty-five years have seen a revolution in publishing in Britain and America. A door has been flung open and we have discovered a whole generation of great European writers from the mid-twentieth century. Writers like Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Vasily Grossman and Isaac Babel have been republished and retranslated. Writers like Antal Szerb, Mihail Sebastian and Josef Czapski have been translated for the first time. Biographies have appeared, their letters and diaries have been translated and edited. The centre of gravity of modern European literature has suddenly started to shift.

This story falls into two halves. First, there is the rediscovery of Soviet writers and second, of writers from central and east Europe. It’s not as if some of the great Soviet writers were unknown before. Lionel Trilling was writing about Babel’s Red Cavalry in the 1950s. He wrote an introduction to Babel’s Collected Stories in 1955, the first post-war republication of Babel’s work in any language. Trilling began by describing how he first read Babel in 1929, when Red Cavalry was first translated into English.

It wasn’t just Trilling. There were essays on Babel by a number of American critics in the 1950s and ’60s including Irving Howe and Steven Marcus. ‘No Soviet writer,’ wrote Alex Abramovich in Slate in 2001:

has meant so much to so many Americans: Ernest Hemingway read the first translation of Babel’s stories and turned green over his sentences. Raymond Carver cited Babel as a formative influence. Philip Roth’s alter ...

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