David Markish, a Russian-language Jewish author, was born in 1938 in Moscow and has lived in Israel since 1972. His father, Perets Markish, a famous Yiddish poet, was executed in 1952 for being a "Jewish nationalist" and an “enemy of the people”. David Markish served as an adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, was editor-in-chief of the newspaper “24 Hours”, and president of the Israeli Intellectuals’ Association.
Markish has more than 20 books to his name, many of them translated into other languages. His best-known novels include: The Dog (about Russian immigrants in the West); The Jew of Peter the Great (historical novel about Jews at the Russian court); To Become Lutov (a pseudo-biography of Isaac Babel); Knights of TB (about inmates of a TB clinic in the Caucasus).
David Markish’s work won him seven Israeli prizes, the prize of the British Book League, literary prizes in the Ukraine and Georgia.
To Become Lutov, (a fictionalized biography of Isaac Babel), 300 pages. First published
The hero of the novel, Yehuda Grossman bears a strong likeness to the Russian-Jewish writer Isaac Babel who was born in Odessa in 1894 and in 1920 joined the cavalry unit commanded by Field Marshal Semyon Budyonny. He described those years in his famous novel Red Cavalry. Markish was mainly inspired by Babel's journals but he insists that his own book is an anti-biography and includes a number of reconstructions and fantasies.
Historical events in the book include Babel's meetings with Ze'ev Jabotinsky who tried to persuade Babel to go to Palestine. When Jabotinsky realized that Babel had no intention of going, he pulled out his address book and erased his name from it.
Markish investigates the identity of the Jew in an alien environment. He considers the connection between Babel and the Cossacks. Babel wanted to be like the Cossacks of the Red Cavalry, but that turned out to impossible for a man with a Jewish background.
In 1935, Babel was permitted to visit his wife in Paris, he had an opportunity to flee but he chose to return to Soviet Russia. In 1939, he was arrested on suspicion of spying, tried and executed. "I wanted to understand Babel as an intellectual Jew," says Markish, "why he went back to Russia when he had the opportunity to flee from there.”
Markish says he feels closer to Babel than to his father: "Babel was a Russian writer, and my father was a Jewish writer. I am a Jewish writer who writes in Russian, like Babel who was also close to the subject of Jewishness which was an essential part of his nature. He knew Yiddish, of course, but wrote in Russian. My father knew Russian well but wrote only in Yiddish. In 1923, my father visited Palestine and lived there for six months. Then he left, because he had no future in that language."
Beyond the Pale of Settlement. History of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee.
The book embraces a much longer period than the actual existence of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee (JAC) which was founded in 1942 and closed in 1948. As a prologue the author recounts the history of establishing the Pale of Jewish Settlement by Catherine the Great in 1791, delving into the way of life, social and political activities in this unique territorial unity. All the notable members of the JAC were descended from the shtetls. Other chapters cover the history of emigration of Jewish writers who were victims of the “JAC Case”; history of “The Crimean Project” when Stalin promised to organize a Jewish autonomous republic in the Crimea; the famous trip of Solomon Mikhoels and Itzik Feffer to America on the invitation of Albert Einstein; routing of JAC and arrest of its leaders; secret trial over JAC leadership and their execution. The book concludes with the story of the planned deportation of the Soviet Jews to Siberia, the Far East, and the Far North – the so-called “Operation White Partridge”.
The book contains a large number of little-known or unknown facts from the history of JAC. It is noted for its accessible and lively style reminiscent of a literary essay and narrative nonfiction.