Ivan And Ivan by Isaac Babel, 1926
The magic trick:
Building the story around the conflict which fundamentally goes against any sense of accepted morality
The reader reads with expectation of clearly delineated good and bad.
Even if you think you don’t, you probably do.
Even if you sufficiently embrace the nuanced culture of the anti-hero in 21st century prestige television, you’re still probably instinctively reading with an eye out for which character is good and which character is bad.
And this is precisely where Red Cavalry will confound you.
No one is good. No one is bad. War is hell. … is the general and relentless message throughout the book.
“Ivan And Ivan” might be the best example. The double names are a clue. Which is one is the liar? Which one is the killer? Which one is the loving husband? Which one might be showing mercy?
The names only add to the confusion. The theme is clear though. In a setting like this, morality is a constantly moving target.
And that’s quite a trick on Babel’s part.
“Hey, I know you’re going to cut his throat!” he yelled to Ivan Akinfiev. “I want the deacon in another cart!”
“Wherever you put him,” the Cossacks standing nearby said, laughing, “our Ivan’s going to get him.”
Ivan Akinfiev, whip in hand, was also standing there next to his horses.
“Greetings, Comrade Medical Assistant,” he said politely, taking off his cap.
“Greetings, my friend,” Barsutsky answered. “You’re going to have to put the deacon in another cart, you wild beast!”
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