Pirozhkova was an engineer who helped design the Moscow subway system. She met Babel, who would become her common-law husband, when she was 23 and he was 38. Babel was an established author who had written “Red Calvary (1926) and “Odessa Tales (1931) and was credited as one of the finest masters of the Russian short story during the 20th century.
Pirozhkova and Babel lived together until May 1939 when he was arrested by the Soviet secret police. Babel was picked up by police in a round up of intellectuals under the regime of Joseph Stalin. He was accused of being a member of a subversive anti-Soviet group and of being a spy for Austria and France.
Ms. Pirozhkova never saw her husband again and in 1954, received a death certificate indicating Babel had died on March 17, 1941. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that she would eventually learn his true fate. Babel was executed after a 20-minute show trial on January 27, 1940.
Pirozhkova’s memoir, which she began to write in 1972, reminisced about her time with Babel–their interactions, his writing habits and his interactions with other writers. The memoir was well received and heralded as a literary tour de force when it was published in 1996.
In an interview with the Washington Post in 1997, she said her memories of life with Babel never faded with time. “They are as vivid as when they happened,” she said.