Recommended: “Konkin”

I don’t like short stories for two reasons. The first is that it has been conventional to end a short story with an unexpected twist. One therefore looks with all one’s might and main for the first signs of the twist – why, I don’t know, but one does, and the twist discovered prematurely is hardly a twist at all. Twist. Twist. Say it out loud. You’ll soon discover you don’t even recognize the word.

The second reason is that I can’t write a short story to save my life.

But this? This is a good one. Enter Isaac Babel’s story “Konkin”, from the Red Cavalry collection. It’s told from the p.o.v. of the colourful cossack Konkin. Check out the brilliant colloquialism of the opening paragraph (and two others):

“So there we were making mincemeat of the Poles at Belaya Tserkov. So much so that the trees were rattling. I’d been hit in the morning, but managed to keep on buzzing, more or less. The day, from what I remember, was toppling toward evening. I got cut off from the brigade commander, and was left with only a bunch of five proletarian Cossacks tagging along after me. All around me everyone’s hugging each other with hatchets, like priests from two villages, the sap’s slowly trickling out of me, my horse has pissed all over itself. Need I say more?”

(A few paragraphs later, he takes on the enemy general…)

“I got my wheels rolling and put two bullets in his horse. I felt bad about the horse. What a Bolshevik of a stallion, a true Bolshevik! Copper-brown like a coin, tail like a bullet, leg like a bowstring. I wanted to present him alive to Lenin, but nothing came of it. I liquidated that sweet little horse.”

(…who refuses to surrender.)

“And he’s against the wall, panting with his whole chest, rubbing his forehead with a red finger.
‘I can’t,’ he says. ‘Kill me, I will only hand my saber to Budyonny!’
He wants me to bring him Budyonny! [Profanity]! And I can tell the old man’s on his last legs.
Pan!‘ I shout at him, sobbing and gnashing my teeth. ‘On my proletarian honor, I myself am the commander-in-chief. Don’t go looking for embroidery on me, but the title’s mine. You want my title? I am the musical eccentric and salon ventriloquist of Nizhny… Nizhny, a town on the Volga!'”


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