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City of Rogues and Schnorrers

Russia's Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa

Jarrod Tanny

Publication Year: 2011

Old Odessa, on the Black Sea, gained notoriety as a legendary city of Jewish gangsters and swindlers, a frontier boomtown mythologized for the adventurers, criminals, and merrymakers who flocked there to seek easy wealth and lead lives of debauchery and excess. Odessa is also famed for the brand of Jewish humor brought there in the 19th century from the shtetls of Eastern Europe and that flourished throughout Soviet times. From a broad historical perspective, Jarrod Tanny examines the hybrid Judeo-Russian culture that emerged in Odessa in the 19th century and persisted through the Soviet era and beyond. The book shows how the art of eminent Soviet-era figures such as Isaac Babel, Il'ia Ilf, Evgenii Petrov, and Leonid Utesov grew out of the Odessa Russian-Jewish culture into which they were born and which shaped their lives.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Lest you tire of reading this book before reaching the end of these acknowledgments, I would like to thank the most important people first. My wife, Allison Rosen, who has supported me emotionally, intellectually, and in every other way possible through...

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Note on Transliteration

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p. xv

For Russian transliteration, I have adopted the Library of Congress System. For a handful of personal names known to English readers, I have used the more familiar spelling...

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Introduction: Why Is This Town Different from All the Rest?

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pp. 1-22

DURING THE CHAOS of the Russian Revolution and civil war, Konstantin Paustovskii witnessed a curious and somewhat comical incident. Observing a street-corner queue in Odessa, Paustovskii noted the presence of...

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1. The Birth of Old Odessa

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pp. 23-47

“I’M GOING TO ODESSA for money!” declared Reb Khaim-Shulim, an impoverished and hapless Jew living in Kishinev during the mid-nineteenth century. Fed up with supporting a large family and living his life from hand to mouth, Khaim- Shulim packed...

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2. Crafting Old Odessa

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pp. 48-81

In 1911 the Russian humorist Arkadii Averchenko published a description of his recent journey by steamship to Odessa. Having never visited Odessa before, Averchenko struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger, as he wanted to hear all about the city...

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3. The Battle for Old Odessa

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pp. 82-129

The Bolsheviks took power in Odessa for the third and final time in February 1920, after three turbulent years of political chaos, social upheaval, and economic collapse. They immediately announced the dawn of a new era for the city, promising an end to the crime...

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4. Revival and Survival

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pp. 131-173

The anathematized myth of old Odessa outlasted Stalin and the cultural frost of the General Secretary’s twilight years. The subsequent “thaw” in Soviet politics and culture melted the layers of ice that had inhibited the commemoration of Russia’s gilded city of sin...

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5. Rewriting Old Odessa's Mythical Past

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pp. 174-190

In 1986 the Soviet filmmaker Vladimir Alenikov received tentative permission to produce a television mini-series based on Isaac Babel’s Odessa Stories; Babel’s irreverent Jewish gangsters had not appeared on screen since the silent movie...

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Epilogue: The End of Old Odessa

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pp. 191-192

“We have not had enough of you, Benia Krik,” wistfully declares Svetlana Donskaia in a refrain echoed by all of Odessa’s post-Soviet mythmakers, who have unremittingly tried to keep the Jewish gangster’s spirit alive, some even suggesting that he physically survived...


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pp. 193-235


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pp. 237-258


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pp. 259-265

Author Bio

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p. 267

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001382
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356468

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 770876078
MUSE Marc Record: Download for City of Rogues and Schnorrers

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Ukraine -- Odesa -- History
  • Jewish criminals -- Ukraine -- Odesa -- Biography
  • Odesa (Ukraine) -- Social conditions.
  • Odesa (Ukraine) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Odesa (Ukraine) -- In literature.
  • Cultural pluralism -- Ukraine -- Odesa -- History.
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