(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Lyubka the Cossack” is set in Moldavanka, the thieves’ district of Odessa, the city where Isaac Babel lived after 1905. Although the narrator could be equated with the author, he plays no role in the action. His manner of storytelling, however, is highly colorful, so that the reader is continually reminded of his presence. The narrator becomes a separate, quaintly jocular persona who in fact acts as a substitute for the author. This special persona is to be found in all the stories, of which “Lyubka the Cossack” is one, making up the collection Odesskie rasskazy (1931; Tales of Odessa, 1955). The narrator informs the reader that his point in telling the story is to reveal how old Tsudechkis got the job of manager of the inn owned by Lyubka, who is nicknamed the Cossack. It is clear, however, that the author has the additional intent of portraying the colorful Moldavanka Jews and the exotic seaport itself.

The tale begins with the information that Tsudechkis has negotiated a sale to a landowner and then brought him to Lyubka’s inn. The landowner enjoyed a meal and a girl—and skipped at dawn without paying. Tsudechkis is therefore asked to pay the six rubles. He refuses, however, and is locked up in Lyubka’s room by the watchman Yevzel. Tsudechkis declares that God will free him as He led the Jews out of Egypt and out of the wilderness. Later he laments that he is in the “hands of Pharaoh.”

From a window,...

(The entire section is 595 words.)