City of Rogues and Schnorrers

City of Rogues and Schnorrers

Russia's Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa
Jarrod Tanny
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/24/2011
Format: paper 288 pages, 10 b&w illus.
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-22328-9
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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.

Author Bio

Jarrod Tanny is Assistant Professor of History and Block Distinguished Fellow of History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.


"Traces the emergence, development, and persistence of the myth of Odessa as both Garden of Eden and Gomorrah, a unique Russian/Soviet city that promised its residents easy money and all pleasures of the flesh. . . . A joy to read—well crafted, cogently argued, and compellingly written." —Robert Weinberg, Swarthmore College

"Tanny delivers readers an inspired analysis of Odessa's role in Soviet history as a city that fueled cultural irreverence throughout the humorlessness of the Tsarist and Soviet ages." —

"[T]he book is a wonderful read, deeply infused with erudition and literary sensitivity, and an important complement to our understanding of Odessa and Russian Jewish history." —Marginalia

"Outstanding . . . This is a delightfully written work of serious scholarship about urban rogues and schnorrers who transmitted an aspect of Jewish identity and culture into the broader Russian cultural world." —Jewish Book World

"Just as the myth of Odessa crossed the boundaries between social classes and linguistic groups in Russian and Soviet societies, this book about the myth is bound to build important bridges between scholars of Yiddish and Russian cultures. In this lies its most important value." —Slavic Review

"Tanny’s goal—and accomplishment—is to trace the history of the Odessa myth in all its variegated aspects. To do so, he has marshaled an impressive body of primary and secondary sources . . . [T]his is a book that will inform (and entertain) both the student of modern Russian history and the intellectually curious lay reader." —American Historical Review

"This meticulously researched book shows that the myth of old Odessa survived the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism, World War Two, and the stagnation of the Brezhnev era. It shows that paradoxically, the collapse of the Soviet Union has seen the revival of old Odessa. The myth of Odessa and its golden age has become part of the realm of collective memory." —Journal of Modern Jewish Studies

"Books on humor do not always make for an enjoyable read. This one does. The case of the Odessa myth is a refreshing and funny account of the power of satire in a closed society and its relevance to the forging of popular historical images. Tanny's study reminds us that the Soviet state and its institutions were not the only actors on the historical stage. . . . It will appeal to scholars interested in the historical change in the image of Odessa as well as historians of Soviet and Jewish humor." —East European Jewish Affairs

"Jarrod Tanny has written an entertaining study of the myth of old Odessa: his book is serious and funny, informative and amusing, witty and well written . . . . This is a very good book." —SLAVIC AND EAST EUROPEAN JOURNAL

"In this lively cultural study, Jarrod Tanny explores the origins, development, and echoes of a cultural trope: the myth of old Odessa, 'an improbable fusion of criminality, Jewishness, and humor'." —The Russian Review

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Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration
Introduction. Why is This Town Different from All the Rest?
1. The Birth of Old Odessa
2. Crafting Old Odessa
3. The Battle for Old Odessa
4. Revival and Survival
5. Rewriting Old Odessa
Epilogue. The End of Old Odessa
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