“[Translation] work isn’t as bad as it might seem. When a phrase is born, it is both good and bad at the same time. The secret of its success rests in a crux that is barely discernible. One’s fingertips must grasp the key, gently warming it. And then the key must be turned once, not twice.” – Isaac Babel, “Guy de Maupassant” (trans. Peter Constantine)

“The administrative staff is supposed to be at Radzivillov along with all the transport carts, but in my opinion, Brody would be more interesting, the battle is being fought for Brody. Ivan’s opinion prevails, some of the cart drivers are saying the Poles are in Brody, the transport carts are fleeing, the army staff has left, we drive to Radzivillov. We arrive in the night. All this time we’ve been eating carrots and peas, penetrating hunger, we’re covered in dirt, haven’t slept. I took a hut on the outskirts of Radzivillov. Good choice, my knack for this sort of thing is getting better. An old man, a girl. The buttermilk is marvelous, we had all of it, they’re making tea with milk, Ivan is going to get some sugar, machine gun fire, the thunder of carts, we run out of the house, the horse is suddenly limping, that’s how things are sometimes, we are running in panic, we’re being shot at, we have no idea what’s going on, they’ll catch us any moment now, we make a dash for the bridge, pandemonium, we fall into the marshes, wild panic, a dead man lying there, abandoned carts, shells, tachankas. Traffic jam, night, terror, carts standing in an endless line, we are moving, a field, we stop, we sleep, stars. What upsets me most in all of this is the lost tea, I’m so upset, it’s peculiar. I think about it all night and hate the war.” – Isaac Babel, 1920 Diary (trans. Peter Constantine)

“The terrible truth is that all the soldiers have syphilis. Matyazh is almost cured (with practically no treatment). He had syphilis, got treatment for two weeks, he and a fellow countryman were to pay ten silver kopecks in Stavropol, his fellow countryman died, Misha had it many times, Senechka and Gerasya have syphilis, and they all go with women, and back home they have brides. The soldier’s curse. Russia’s curse—it’s horrifying. They swallow ground crystal, at times they drink either carbolic acid or crushed glass. All our fighters: velvet caps, rapes, Cossack forelocks, battle, Revolution, and syphilis.” – Isaac Babel, 1920 Diary (trans. Peter Constantine)

“One feels right away that this is the kingdom of books. People working at the library commune with books, with the life reflected in them, and so become almost reflections of real-life human beings. Even the cloakroom attendants—not brown-haired, not blond, but something in between—are mysteriously quiet, filled with contemplative composure. At home on Saturday evenings they might well drink methylated spirits and give their wives long, drawn-out beatings, but at the library their comportment is staid, circumspect, and hazily somber.” – Isaac Babel, “The Public Library” (trans. Peter Constantine)

“Who in his youth has not dozed off on the edge of a sofa with his head propped on the breast of a high school girl, met by chance on life’s winding path? It is not necessarily such a bad thing, and more often than not there are no consequences, but one does have to show a little consideration for others, not to mention that the girl might well have to go to school the next day.” – Isaac Babel, “Mama, Rimma, and Alla” (trans. Peter Constantine)