Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams

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by Charles King

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A colorful account of the transformation of one of Europe's foremost Jewish cities, told through the stories of its geniuses and villains.  See more details below


A colorful account of the transformation of one of Europe's foremost Jewish cities, told through the stories of its geniuses and villains.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his intricately researched new work, King (The Black Sea) brings to life the stories of the Russians, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Italians, Germans, and Romanians that make up the "quintessentially mixed city" of Odessa. Far from the Russian and Ukrainian seats of power, but close to Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean states, Odessa has always been both a progressive, cosmopolitan trading port and a lawless outpost given to periods of violence, revolution, and economic depression. King effortlessly moves between the city's high points, like the booming grain trade in the late-18th and mid-19th centuries and urban development under the duc de Richelieu, and its desperate times, including the economic collapse associated with the Crimean War and the city's devastating Jewish holocaust at the hands of Romanian occupiers in the 1940s. King weaves into his history the lives of Alexander Pushkin, Isaac Babel, and Sergei Eisenstein, all of whom had connections to Odessa, a city still struggling to understand its place in the world. King's ability to lay bare the city's secrets— both good and bad—gives a fascinating prism through which to observe. (Feb.)
The Economist
“A worthy tribute to one of Europe’s greatest and least-known cities.”
Eloquent and engaging.”— Michael Schwirtz
The Daily Beast
Engaging and highly enjoyable. . . . King brings a travel writer’s gift for clear prose and keen observation to history.”— Matthew Kaminsky
Michael Schwirtz - Moment
“Eloquent and engaging.”
Matthew Kaminsky - The Daily Beast
“Delivered in a voice that is intelligent, feminist and devastatingly honest…Unlike many accounts of life with cancer, it is neither relentlessly upbeat nor melodramatic. Instead, it is straightforward, realistic and incredibly brave.”
Library Journal
King (international affairs & government, Georgetown Univ.; The Black Sea: A History) undertakes to trace the development, history, and character of Odessa, that southern Ukrainian seaport on the Black Sea, while simultaneously studying the impact of the Jewish population of eastern Europe on the region's history and culture. By sharing a series of vignettes, portraits of Odessa through the eyes or actions of some of its more colorful or influential residents, both singular and in group populations, across the ages, King evokes the dichotomy and conflict that lay below the beauty of this rugged city. While enthusiastically written with obvious love and knowledge of Odessa, the parts of the book seem slightly disconnected, as the city's composition and history are perhaps too much for one book. King's narrative and insights do open several avenues for further research and reveal the truths behind many old myths. VERDICT History buffs, religious history enthusiasts, or lovers of that great city will enjoy this work for the portraits shared and the images it evokes.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
Kirkus Reviews

A history of the site, from its geological structure to its often fragmented, usually fractious, frequently bloody human occupation.

King (International Affairs and Government/Georgetown Univ.; Extreme Politics: Nationalism, Violence, and the End of Eastern Europe, 2010, etc.), who has written extensively about the region and speaks Russian and Romanian, ably glides through Odessa's history, geography and geopolitics. The city of Odessa, situated on the Black Sea's northwestern coast and currently in the hands of Ukraine, was founded in 1794, near Khadjibey, a village of uncertain origins. It began as the ambitious plan of José Pascual Domingo de Ribas y Boyons, who convinced Catherine the Great that the site could become "the jewel of her new southern possessions." Though Catherine died shortly after approving the start of construction, the project kept moving. King highlights the stories of numerous significant individuals whose biographies link to Odessa's. Alexander I appointed Richelieu as city administrator in 1803, and he distinguished himself as a battler against the plague, which continually visited this port city. Pushkin lived and wrote in Odessa. The Charge of the Light Brigade was about 500 miles east along the shore. Isaac Babel, whom King labels "Odessa's greatest writer," wrote about the city. Sergei Eisenstein filmed his 1925 classic Battleship Potemkin there, with its classic scene on the Odessa Steps (King notes how little of the film is accurate). The author also carefully follows the fate of the city during the mid-20th-century's turmoils—control shifted from Soviet to Romanian/German to Soviet to Ukrainian. No history of the city could be complete without an accounting of the vicious, murderous treatment of its Jewish population, a subject King handles well, allowing horrific statistics and wrenching individual human stories to carry the grim message. The author observes that the city today seems more interested in fanciful mythology than in historical memory.

A sharp, graceful account of a fascinating place.

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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