Autumn in the Heart

I am deeply grateful to Melissa Beck for her generous, sensitive review of Babel’s Odessa Stories. I hope her concluding thoughts do not fall on deaf ears.

The book has received two more reviews — Robert Minto’s eloquent, insightful analysis in Open Letters Monthly and Nicholas Lezard’s enormously kind and witty take in the The Guardian.

The fabulous folks at Pushkin Press have also posted a brief Q&A, in which I marvel at Mark Twain’s exacting diction. Had I the space, I would have linked the man directly to Odessa. Here he is, recounting his visit to the pearl of the Black Sea in The Innocents Abroad (1869):

I have not felt so much at home for a long time as I did when I “raised the hill” and stood in Odessa for the first time. It looked just like an American city; fine, broad streets, and straight as well; low houses, (two or three stories), wide, neat, and free from any quaintness of architectural ornamentation; locust trees bordering the sidewalks (they call them acacias); a stirring, business-look about the streets and the stores; fast walkers; a familiar new look about the houses and every thing; yea, and a driving and smothering cloud of dust that was so like a message from our own dear native land that we could hardly refrain from shedding a few grateful tears and execrations in the old time-honored American way. Look up the street or down the street, this way or that way, we saw only America! There was not one thing to remind us that we were in Russia.

I’ve mentioned before that my two hometowns — Odessa and Los Angeles — have, to some extent, blended in my mind. This poem reflects that warp in my space-time continuum.

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