Red Cavalry (or Konarmiia in Russian) is a collection of short stories firmly planted in the birth trauma of the Soviet Union. To the Russian reader of the 1920’s, Red Cavalry had the sound of the new language of the new regime. The very word konarmiia was a coinage of the Russian Civil War, a joining of the Russian words for “horse” and “army,” and was used to replace the old word for cavalry, with its associations of elite regiments staffed by aristocrats. However, the English translator did not attempt to capture that sense, instead choosing the more descriptive title Red Cavalry. Even in translation, however, Red Cavalry loses little of the raw energy of the original Russian.
This collection of short stories begins with a bang in “Perekhod cherez Zbruch” (“Crossing into Poland”), with the news that Novograd-Volynsk has been captured. The narrator describes how he crosses the Zbruch River, followed by an encounter with a Jewish family in the house where he is to be billeted for the night. Each of the stories follows a similar pattern, with the first-person narrator, Kiril Lyutov, having various encounters with the Cossacks and with the Poles and Jews in the territories through which the army rides. Almost all the encounters are violent, and each is vividly limned with strong, active words.
Although there is no obvious continuing between the chapters and each story can...
(The entire section is 596 words.)