6: Text excerpt, Isaac Babel’s "The Story of My Dovecote," 1925.
In its depiction of a conflict between a father and a son, Bezmozgis’s story brings to mind one of the most famous short stories of the Russian-Jewish literary canon: Isaac Babel’s "The Story of My Dovecote." Set in 1905 near Odessa, the narrator’s father in "The Story of My Dovecote" wishes to assimilate into the dominant culture of Imperial Russia, pinning his hopes on his son’s admission to a selective Russian-speaking school. Teachers at the school have typically excluded Jewish students with parents who are assumed to speak little to no Russian.
Suggested Activity: Read the short excerpt of Isaac Babel’s story. Think about how the father in Babel’s story displays motivations similar to Roman Berman’s when Roman takes his son to a local Rabbi and focuses on the child’s ability to converse in Hebrew. Compare the narrator’s recitation of a poem by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in "The Story of My Dovecote" with the narrator’s recitation of some Hebrew phrases and of "Jerusalem of Gold" in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist." How does each father hope to achieve his goals by having his son perform in a language the father himself has not mastered? What larger social and personal opportunities are they hoping to unlock through these particular performances by their children?
Source: Isaac Babel, “The Story of My Dovecote,” The Essential Fictions, trans. Val Vinokur (Northwestern University Press, 2018) 64-65. Translation © 2018 Val Vinokur. First published 2018 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.