The Five: A Novel of Jewish Life in Turn-of-the-Century Odessa / Edition 1

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"The beginning of this tale of bygone days in Odessa dates to the dawn of the twentieth century. At that time we used to refer to the first years of this period as the 'springtime,' meaning a social and political awakening. For my generation, these years also coincided with our own personal springtime, in the sense that we were all in our youthful twenties. And both of these springtimes, as well as the image of our carefree Black Sea capital with acacias growing along its steep banks, are interwoven in my memory with the story of one family in which there were five children: Marusya, Marko, Lika, Serezha, and Torik."—from The Five

The Five is an captivating novel of the decadent fin-de-siècle written by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), a controversial leader in the Zionist movement whose literary talents, until now, have largely gone unrecognized by Western readers. The author deftly paints a picture of Russia's decay and decline—a world permeated with sexuality, mystery, and intrigue. Michael R. Katz has crafted the first English-language translation of this important novel, which was written in Russian in 1935 and published a year later in Paris under the title Pyatero.

The book is Jabotinsky's elegaic paean to the Odessa of his youth, a place that no longer exists. It tells the story of an upper-middle-class Jewish family, the Milgroms, at the turn of the century. It follows five siblings as they change, mature, and come to accept their places in a rapidly evolving world. With flashes of humor, Jabotinsky captures the ferment of the time as reflected in political, social, artistic, and spiritual developments. He depicts with nostalgia the excitement of life in old Odessa and comments poignantly on the failure of the dream of Jewish assimilation within the Russian empire.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This autobiographical novel was first published in Russian in Paris in 1936. Set in the Odessa of the author's youth and narrated by a character much like himself, it recounts the fortunes of a Jewish family, the Milgroms, through whom we witness the rise and fall of Jewish Odessa from the beginning of the twentieth century to the Russian Revolution. It also offers a fervent account of the temporary success and ultimate failure of Jewish assimilation in the Russian empire. The Five portrays the lost world of Odessa's Jews in all its color and vitality, its historical vulnerability and perennial optimism; now appearing in English, it is bound to become indispensable for American literary fiction readers and students of Jewish-Russian literature."—Booklist (starred review), April 1, 2005

"The most remarkable thing about The Five is not that it was written by a man who, the year before its publication, was occupied day and night in leading his Revisionist Party out of the World Zionist Organization and founding a rump Zionist body after a negotiated truce between him and Ben-Gurion was voted down. . . . The Five would be just as tender yet unsentimental a novel, and as technically accomplished, even were it to turn out that its author had been publicly played by a double while spending his time holed up in his Paris apartment, composing leisurely draft after draft. The most remarkable thing about this novel is how good it is."—Hillel Halkin, The New Republic, 19 December2005

"In his sympathetic depiction of the flawed Milgroms, Jabotinsky at once created a paean to the beloved city of his youth while providing Russian literature with the very type of sympathetic Jewish novel whose absence he bemoaned, and which he predicted was not likely to appear even when Soviet Russian literature matured."—Louis Gordon, Jerusalem Report, 23 January 2006

"For Jabotinsky, Arab national aspirations, like those of the Zionists, were legitimate. Hence his acknowledgment of the inevitable violence of the struggle. . . . In Jabotinsky's future, Arab and Jew would not be neighbors so much as carefully differentiated groupings within the body politic of the new state. . . . In Jabotinsky's writing, Zionism both affirms and doubts itself. What would Israel look like today if the modern leaders who have claimed to take their inspiration from him—Begin, Netanyahu, Sharon, and now Olmert, who referred to Jabotinsky in his speech to the first session of the new Knesset at the beginning of May—had shown themselves capable of such radical self-questioning."—Jacqueline Rose, The Nation, 26 June2006

"This lyrical, in places almost sentimental, novel of turn-of-the-twentieth-century upper-middle-class Jewish life and its intertwining with the rest of that extraordinary cosmopolitan Russian port-city of Odessa, by the famously hard-bitten, extremist-Zionist, Vladimir Jabotinsky, radical founder of the Irgun and maker of much trouble for British-occupied Palestine, adds a dimension of meaning to a city also vividly portrayed in the better-known stories of Isaac Babel and the memoirs of Konstantin Paustovsky. Michael Katz's supple, readable translation brings this almost forgotten Russian novel back to life, adding it to what we can now call the"Odessa text" of Russian Literature."—Sidney Monas, University of Texas at Austin

"Vladimir Jabotinsky is best known for his fiery, uncompromising politics but he was a supple, vivid writer of Russian non-fiction and fiction, and The Five is, undoubtedly, his greatest narrative achievement. It is a sensitive and evocative treatment of a little-remembered, but crucial slice of late imperial Russian Jewish life and, above all, a love story in which the city of Odessa itself is the prime protagonist."—Steven J. Zipperstein, Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University

"Seldom has love for a society blended so poignantly with augury of its demise as in this marvelous novel about Odessa Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century. Vladimir Jabotinsky the brilliant novelist anticipates the career of Ze'ev Jabotinsky the Zionist leader who urged the evacuation of the Jews from Eastern Europe."—Ruth Wisse, Harvard University

"With the exposure to a broad international audience afforded by this new English translation, The Five will become wonderfully important to a variety of different readers. There is nothing else quite like it; it differs both from Jabotinsky's earlier novel and from his political and other nonfictional writings. At the same time, the novel forms part of the whole of Jabotinsky's life work. It connects him, and much of the Zionist program, quite closely to Russian history, Russian culture, and Russian concerns, a fact that is often forgotten from the contemporary Israeli perspective."—Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Saul Austerlitz
...its publication casts the legendary Zionist in a new, and surprising, light: Vladimir Jabotinsky the Russian novelist, disciple to the traditions of two other writers, Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev.... Jabotinsky writes the final chapter of Jewish life in Odessa with a love and delicacy surprising in one so dedicated to the Zionist cause.
The Forward
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801489037
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 633,804
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Katz is Starr Professor Emeritus of Russian and East European Studies at Middlebury College.

Michael Stanislawski is Nathan J. Miller Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University.

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