The Story Of My Dovecote by Isaac Babel, 1916
The magic trick:
Mixing symbolism with the literal in a shocking way
Pretty amazing story, here today, with this one.
We’ve seen stories throughout all of literature featuring children losing their sense of hope and innocence. I’m not sure I can think of a story that tells that tale in quite so harrowing fashion as this one.
The doves, you can see from the start, are going to be the crucial symbol. Peace and love and the like. And the doves do prove to be such a symbol, but the literal crushing of the narrator’s youthful hopes for happiness is utterly shocking. Such a mix of the symbolic and literal. Such a mix of the family’s hypothetical fears and the realistic justification for such fears. And that’s quite a trick on Babel’s part.
(Knowing how Babel’s real life played out and ended only makes this story all the more heart-wrenching.)
I had gotten everything ready for them – the one and a half rubles and the dovecote made out of a box by Grandpa Shoyl. The dovecote was given a coat of brown paint. It had nests for twelve pairs of doves, a series of little slats on its roof, and special grating I had invented so that it would be easier for other doves to come in too. Everything was ready. On Sunday, October 22, I set off to the wild game market, but I ran into unexpected obstacles along the way.