Paul Walker On:
My First Goose by Isaac Babel
Despite being a committed reader from a very young age, I had, for a long time, only a passing interest in short-form literature. There was, I acknowledged to myself, something about it that I found unsatisfying. To read a standalone story, even a great one, felt rather like meeting a beautiful woman on the last day of a holiday, an hour before boarding the flight home. However, my attitude changed with the discovery of the Red Cavalry collection by Isaac Babel, a Russian writer of genius who was executed at the age of 45, a victim of Stalin’s purges. By the end of the first story, Crossing the River Zbrucz, I was hooked and horrified in equal measure; it had everything: style, perfect form, atmosphere, heart, etc. Yet the story I have chosen for this project is not that one, but My First Goose. I won’t recount the plot, because you can find that out for yourself by reading it. In any case, I was, and still am, most struck by the range, and intensity, of emotion; the journey the narrator goes on in such a small number of pages; the brilliant imagery; and the fact that Babel manages to convey something of the brutality of war without a single human casualty.