Books by Isaac Bashevis Singer

THE PARAKEET NAMED DREIDEL by Isaac Bashevis Singer
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 8, 2015

"Berkson's illustrations give this sweet tale a new life and a new audience. (Picture book. 5-8)"
Singer's short story, first published in The Power of Light (1980) and now fully illustrated in a new picture-book version, depicts family, love, and marriage.Read full book review >
MORE STORIES FROM MY FATHER’S COURT by Isaac Bashevis Singer
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

"Sure to delight all those Singer fans—especially those who feared that a fifth posthumous collection would never hit the shelves. "
Enchanting sketches of a lost world. Read full book review >
SHADOWS ON THE HUDSON by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

The late Nobelist (1904-91) left us yet another gift in this previously untranslated long novel, originally serialized in Yiddish in the Forward more than 40 years ago. The story, set in the late 1940s, begins with a masterly piece of exposition: a dinner party in New York City hosted by Boris Makaver, a refugee whose commercial success has enabled him to indulge his devotion to orthodox religious practices and generosity to friends whose assimilation to their new country has been less successful than his own. Boris's guests include his beautiful daughter Anna, unhappily married to attorney Stanislaw Luria; Professor David Shrage, a mathematician whose wife perished in the Holocaust; a saturnine doctor whose family hides a guilty collaborationist secret; and, most crucially, Hertz Grein, an idealistic scholar who has struck it rich in the stock market and is the object of Anna Luria's adulterous attentions. Singer explores the exhaustive combinings and recombinings of these lives with those of several other richly drawn characters, the most vivid of whom is Anna's first husband Yasha Kotik, a celebrated comic actor who will stop at nothing to achieve success and win back his former wife. Marriages and affairs fall apart; age and death take their toll; the wisdom of the scripture and kabbalah and the precepts of the great philosophers and avatars of modern science are passionately debated in extended conversations that seethe with drama. This is soap opera raised to the level of genius, in a consistently absorbing novel whose amazing breadth and verisimilitude suggest a contemporary Tolstoy. And Singer concludes it triumphantly, in a series of summaries of his several protagonists' fates, all of which are memorably encapsulated in the chastened Hertz Grein's simultaneous self-justification and apologia: "One cannot keep the Ten Commandments while one lives in a society that breaks them." A matchless portrait of human frailty seen from the perspective of a vast compassionate understanding. A major work, from one of the great modern novelists. Read full book review >
THE TOPSY-TURVY EMPEROR OF CHINA by Isaac Bashevis Singer
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 26, 1996

A dark tale of the eternal "struggle between good and evil, beauty and ugliness," from a master, given pristine treatment in the illustrations that appear in this edition. A cruel Chinese emperor casts everything in his kingdom in his own deformed spirit, and the result is The Court of Injustice (where robbers go free, for a price), a Secretary of False Promises, stuffed arsenals, punk hairdos, police corruption, and godless temples. But tyranny will always have its opponents, and so the crown prince, who grows up with an intuitive sense of truth and justice, joins the revolutionaries to bring an end to his father's reign. There is a heroic dimension to this tale and some savage buffoonery, but nothing unruly finds its way into the meticulous, paneled Asian art, which remains coolly distant and stylized. (Picture book. 7-9) Read full book review >
MESHUGAN by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 1994

The late Nobelist's third posthumously published novel (after Scum and The Certificate) was serialized (1981-83) in Yiddish in the Forward newspaper and was titled Lost Souls. But "meshuga" (crazy) is the world where lies were bits of truth, where "no sooner did one free oneself of a neurosis, then another rushed in to take its place," and where God — the novelist? — maybe has a meaning in the works. Singer's following will feel at home: those uptown Broadway cafeterias of the 50's, a sub-shtetl of recent immigrants, nursing coffee and gossip, Manhattan in freezing cold or blazing heat, milling pigeons, the eerie vacancy of skyscrapers. And throughout there is the crazy choreography of uprooted random survivors of the Holocaust, drifting, as here, into odd combinations; and always wry cosmic questions nag: "What does God want? There has to be something He wants." Narrator Aaron Greidinger, writer and radio "advisor" to a Yiddish-speaking following, is stunned to see in large person Max, once patron of the arts in Warsaw, in roaring top form as "the well-known glutton, guzzler, womanizer." Max sweeps Aaron off to meet his 27-year-old lover, Miriam, another camp survivor. The trio achieves a psychic/sexual entity: Max, the elderly "husband, father, lover," considers lovers Aaron and Miriam his children. Aaron, bemused, somewhat horrified, sees "entanglements without exit": Stanley, Miriam's flabby husband, barges in, points a gun (there is a question about God); lovers old and new send signals; Miriam's wartime sex is more serious — and there's worse to come. At the last, after a trip to Israel, and a terrible discovery, Aaron weighs love and obligation in the shadow of a world's "slaughterhouse." Solid representative Singer with speculations light and dark, comic and searing. Manna for his following, who know that wherever Singer touched pen to paper there sprang up a village — of ghosts, of survivors, of all of us. Read full book review >
THE CERTIFICATE by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

Aria on adolescence written in Singer's old age, set familiarly in the post-WW II Warsaw ghetto. Nobelist Singer was his own man, but his triumph here is much like Dostoyevsky's in his later years when he wrote A Raw Youth and tapped the mad feel of his teens, though it's also modeled on Knut Hamsun's Hunger, a more intense but less lively story than Singer's. Singer's hero is David Bendiner, 19, a penniless and starving writer whose only claim to fame is an unpublished manuscript, Spinoza and the Cabala. David's brother Isaac, five years older, already belongs to Warsaw's Writers Club and seems a portrait of Singer's older brother, the novelist Israel Joshua Singer. David has lost a teaching job in his small home village, where he trips over his fate on every page. A dealer in certificates for traveling to Palestine accepts David as a wonderful choice for marrying him off to Minna Ahronson, the 24-year-old daughter of a once wealthy bankrupt; she wants to follow her lover, the indescribably romantic Zbigniew Shapira, to Palestine. Britain allows married Poles to bring their wives into the new nation, where the brides are then divorced and go their own way. Getting the certificate means cutting through expensive red tape and hangs over much of the novel. Throughout, Singer writes in a strikingly flesh, direct manner that allows for songful translation: "Night had fallen and lights were shining on the sidewalks. Mannequins in the store windows were dressed in the latest fashions. The moon swam across the sky. The stars seemed to ignite over the tin rooftops." Underclothed and with holes in his shoes, the star-crossed David spends the winter largely in a frigid, dark room, trudges about meeting people in distress, tries to stay alive while making sense of an unfathomably hostile universe crisscrossed with stupefying laws, politics, philosophies, manifestos, and religions. Singer's farewell? A Chaplinesque one, done with gusto and panache. Read full book review >
SCUM by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 1991

More déja vu than vintage, Singer's latest novel combines familiar Singer themes of moral corruption, Polish life before the wars, and seductive women—all in a story with lofty intentions and a plot that's seen better days. Impotent with grief at the sudden death of his 17-year-old son Arturo, Max Brabander returns in 1906 to his native Warsaw in search of healing and sexual stimulation. A petty crook in his youth, Max had emigrated to Argentina, where he had married, become rich, and grown more or less respectable. Now, vowing to visit his parents' graves in a nearby town, he is nonetheless unable to leave the distractions and temptations of Warsaw. His old underworld neighborhood in the Jewish quarter is changing, but not for the better: corruption is rife, and even the motives of the daughter of the good rabbi in accepting Max's foolhardy proposal of marriage are those of self-interest rather than love. Max is as corrupt as the city he is visiting; and though he recalls with guilt his early religious upbringing, he is too busy pursuing and seducing women to practice piety. But in Reyzl, a procuress and mistress of a local gang-leader, Max meets his moral equivalent—and nemesis. And his discovery that she has been using him leads inevitably to violence and an end that has haunted Max's dreams for years. His fate as "scum" was seemingly ordained. Marvellous descriptions of Warsaw life, both in the Jewish quarter and elsewhere, do much to redeem the triteness of a tale predictable in its telling and its outcome: not Singer's best. Read full book review >
THE KING OF THE FIELDS by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 10, 1988

Singer's first novel in five years touches on many of his recurring themes (lust vs. reason, paganism vs. civilization, women as she-devils) but in a strange, largely unconvincing context: pre-medieval, primitive Poland, where assorted pagan tribes fight for control of rural neighborhoods, at odds over (among other things) whether to live by hunting or farming. ("Poland" comes from pola, meaning "fields.") The narrative—episodic, disjointed, melodramatic—more or less centers on Cybula, chieftain of a forest-dwelling, hunting clan called the Lesniks. He flees into the mountains, with other hunters, when the Lesniks are attacked by a raping, pillaging band of warrior-farmers intent on tilling the Lesnik's land (and subjecting them to field-hand slavery). Eventually, however, the two tribes achieve semi-peaceful coexistence—thanks in part to the marriage between the warrior-king and Laska, Cybula's comely daughter. Moreover, widower Cybula—who has a turbulent sex life with both aggressive Kora and Kora's scrawny daughter Yagoda—finds an unlikely soulmate in quiet, wise, homosexual warrior Nosek. Together the men make the long journey to the relatively modern town of Miastro; they buy goods there, purchase a Tatar concubine for the warrior-king, and also bring back with them Jewish cobbler Ben Dosa—who offers to teach the tribes reading and writing. But, when the travelers return, they find a society bloodily divided again: the warrior-king goes mad; his men run amok, killing and raping; Kora ("a bloodthirsty animal") leads the Lesnik women in a retaliatory bloodbath—and in human-sacrifice rites. (Ben Dosa, observing in horror, cries "Sodom and Gomorrah!") The barbaric situation is worsened further by the arrival of a charismatic, anti-Semitic missionary for Christianity. And the conclusion is ambiguous at best: Cybula rescues the Tatar girl (who loves Ben Dosa and wants to convert to Judaism) front human-sacrifice and is forced to flee with Yagoda—who kills mother Kora, now revealed to be a harlot as well as a monster. There are traces here of Singer's narrative magic: his slyly matter-of-fact delivery of horrifying information; his ironic treatment of philosophical quandaries. But none of the themes in this historical novel—man's essential primitivism, the joys of vegetarianism, etc.—emerge clearly or persuasively; the crude contrast between Ben Dosa's nobility and the foulness of the pagans (and Christians) will be off-putting even to most Jewish readers. And, simply as storytelling, this may be the weakest work of Singer's career: uninvolving, clumsily prosaic, more reminiscent of a bad-imitation Clan of the Cave Bear than anything in the Nobel Prize-winner's beguiling canon. Read full book review >
THE DEATH OF METHUSELAH AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 1988

You often write on the topic of jealousy." So says a chance acquaintance to narrator I.B. Singer in one of the 20 stories here. And never before has the Singer preoccupation with sexual jealousy, or romantic disillusionment, seemed so intense (and so limiting) as it does in this new collection—which occasionally beguiles but mostly disappoints. In one tale after another, the same scenario—usually set in pre-WW II Poland—unfolds predictably: a man discovers that the woman he loves is unfaithful, a "whore" whose betrayal turns the man into a bitter cynic. Three stories offer a clinical variant on this model: the married man (perhaps latently homosexual) who encourages his wife's adultery. Even "The Last Gaze," about the funeral of an elderly man's middle-aged girlfriend, turns into another faithless-woman fable. And only one version—"The Bitter Truth," in which the husband remains blissfully ignorant about the wife's perfidy—provides enough texture or twist to sustain interest once the formula takes over. When Singer does explore other subject-matter here, the results are generally thin and anecdotal. In "Disguised," a wife discovers her ex-husband's sexual secret: territory covered more richly in earlier Singer stories. "The Missing Line" and "The Accuser and the Accused" offer strange, mildly intriguing happenings from the Yiddish Writers' Clubs of Singer's past. Quirks of character—obsessive gift-giving, blind passion—are the subtance of "Gifts" and "Dazzled." The supernatural turns up in three pieces: "The Jew from Babylon" is a miracle—worker losing his lifelong battle against the "Evil Ones"; "Sabbath in Gehenna" is a whimsical glimpse of political unrest among the sinners of Hell; the title story treats ancient Methuselah to hellish visions of corrupt, kinky Sodom—which make him welcome death. And "Logarithms" features the conflict between secular intellect and religious orthodoxy. Only one story, in fact, has the full-bodied flavor—if not the full development—of prime Singer: "The Hotel," about the meeting of two unhappily retired businessmen in Miami. Completely missing are the richly autobiographical excursions that gave some previous collections such mischievous bounce. So this is very much lesser Singer: always readable, of course, but rather monotonic and undernourished. Read full book review >
THE IMAGE AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1985

Unlike Old Love (1979), which offered a perfectly balanced mixture of Singer's Old World (passionate, mystical) and his autobiographical New World (comic, whimsical), this new story collection is weighted heavily—and a little monotonically—toward Old World tales of wayward lust, doomed triangles, and tortured sinners. And the zestiest of these wry yet feverish morality plays is the brief "On the Way to the Poorhouse," which plays a sly game with reader expectations: the story's opening pages churn up more than a little sympathy for paralyzed prostitute Tsilka, who's about to be deported to the Lublin poorhouse by the townsfolk Of Janow, but Tsilka—a veritable embodiment of lust itself, perhaps even "she-demon"—proves to be more than capable of looking out for her own interests. Elsewhere, too, Singer's familiar ambivalence about sin—sometimes recoiling in horror from its power, sometimes surrendering with a shrug—can add ironic texture to rather flat studies in disastrous passion. But quite often here the stories of temptation and reception are un-attractively reminiscent of Singer's most recent, most moralizing novel, The Penitent—while only a few of the Old World tales go beyond the lust-and-greed formula: the intriguing "Why Heisherik Was Born," with its portrait of compulsive martyrdom; a mini-satire of Jewish-leftist politics in 1936 Poland; an effective account of an encounter with "astral" nemesis. And the modestly amusing "Confused" is the only piece this time in Singer's up-to-date confessional vein—with the famous writer farcically pursued by at least two disturbed women. ("I am in need of a psychiatrist myself, but since I believe neither in Freud nor in Adler or Jung, who could be my healer?") Less comic, varied, and compelling than the best Singer collections, then, with only fleeting glimpses of the Writers' Club and the "literary cafeteria"—but a generous, vigorous gathering nonetheless. Read full book review >
GIFTS by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Released: March 26, 1985

These two slim volumes inaugurate the Jewish Publication Society's "The Author's Workshop" series—which will present writing-in-progress or previously unpublished (or uncollected) stories. And since these works will appear only in expensive limited editions (3000 copies at most, "conceived primarily for the members of the Jewish Publication Society"), they would usually not be considered for mainstream reviews. As a Nobel Prize-winner, however, Singer is likely to attract some attention even in this restricted form: six previously uncollected stories, three of which are not scheduled to appear in The Image and Other Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, scheduled for May 1985); plus an author's introduction, in which Singer offers his rational/mystical view of God as "an eternal belletrist. . . God was creativity." And there is sure to be literary-world interest in the three excerpts from Brodkey's long-anticipated novel, A Party of Animals, two of which have already appeared in The New Yorker: in "Ceil," narrator Wiley Silenowicz reconstructs the life of his husband-deserted mother, who died when he was two (the spirited American daughter of a ferocious Russian-Jewish mystic); in the longer "Lila," Wiley recalls/analyzes his devastating adolescence as the adopted son of a dying father and a dying, demanding, manipulative mother; and in the previously unpublished "Angel," Wiley is a Harvard undergraduate, circa 1951, reacting—with densely philosophical/psychological discussion—to a seraphic vision in Harvard Yard, to his unlikely impulses toward the sacred and mystical. (A brief introduction makes explicit the autobiographical nature of these pieces—which, though full of disturbing material and starkly lyrical prose, don't suggest what form or focus the novel might take.) In all: certainly a distinguished send-off for this special-interest, limited-edition series. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 14, 1984

Singer's three recent memoirs, of mystical childhood and randy youth in Poland, of first immigrant days in the New World, are reprinted together here: A Little Boy in Search of God (1976); A Young Man in Search of Love (1978); and Lost in America (1981). The new material consists of a 21-page introduction in which the Nobel Prize winner, more straightforwardly than in previous childhood memoirs (cf. In My Father's Court), outlines the literary/personal influences of his earliest years on Warsaw's Krochmalna Street: his older brother Joshua's atheism, in contrast to orthodoxy and Chassidim; the far-flung stories that appeared in the Yiddish newspapers; his father's courtroom, of course, a school "where I could study the human soul, its caprices, its yearnings, its barriers." And, above all, complementing his father's Torah-centered good nature: his mother's skepticism, pessimism, and sharpness. ("Every news item made her wince in resentment against the Creator who could see all this misery and remain silent. . . I once heard her say 'I hate the human species.' ") No surprises for Singer veterans, then, but a welcome package for newcomers. Read full book review >
THE PENITENT by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Released: Sept. 30, 1983

It's unsurprising that Singer's new novel, originally published in Yiddish (Der Baal-Tshuve) in 1974, was not quickly offered in English translation: this is the Nobel winner's thinnest, most didactic fiction by far, with strident views (not expressed by IBS directly, it's true) that might warm the hearts of Jerry Falwell & Co. as well as those of Jews opposed to assimilation. The narrator, telling his story to Singer in 1969 Jerusalem, is rabbis' descendant Joseph Shapiro—a Holocaust survivor (he fled from Poland to Russia) who rediscovers his childhood sweetheart, emigrates with her to postwar America, makes big money in real estate, takes an obligatory mistress. . . and is thoroughly disgusted: "I lay deep in the mire and did the devil's work." On the other hand, he doesn't have enough faith to choose religion over Sodom: "I hated the modern world and everything it represented. . . but I had no proof whatsoever that the Torah had been given by God or that there even was a God." Still, faith or no faith, after discovering the infidelities of both wife and mistress, Shapiro renounces his uptown N.Y. life, becomes a Singeresque vegetarian on the spot, wanders into a Lower East Side shul to rediscover the old Jewishness ("the so-called new Jewishness was actually the same as worldliness"), and hears a voice telling him to flee Satan's New York and go to Israel. ("Flee from women who live like whores and demand to be loved and honored.") True, there are stumbling-blocks along the way: a brief surrender to the "Evil Spirit" in the form of a sluttish woman; disillusionment about over-worldly Israel. ("It's just one step from assimilation to conversion, and sometimes no more than a generation or two from conversion to Nazism.") But soon Shapiro leaves Tel Aviv for Jerusalem—joining a study house, becoming a "Talmud Jew," shunning all specks of secular humanism ("The slightest compromise that you make with the culture of the Gentiles and Jewish pagans is a gesture toward evil"), taking a virtuous new wife. . . and finding faith: "Long before you feel a total faith, you must act in a Jewish way. Jewishness leads to faith." Is Shapiro, then, a stand-in for Singer—Not entirely, presumably—since Singer remains in Manhattan with the pagans. But there's no suggestion of skepticism or disagreement here, making it difficult not to read Shapiro's born-again-Jewish opinions—which include wholesale put-downs of Tolstoy, Homer, psychoanalysis, and other worldliness—as the author's. And, though Singer's storytelling genius isn't totally absent from this slight, linear tale, it's primarily for students of his work-and-thought—while much of his usual readership will find it merely puzzling or off-putting. Read full book review >
THE GOLEM by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FAIRY TALES, FOLKTALES AND MYTHS
Released: Nov. 1, 1982

With more story, as well as more craft and substance, than in Beverly Brodsky McDermott's histrionic picture-book version (1976), this tells of Rabbi Leib of Prague and the golem he created to save a banker and other ghetto Jews from execution for false charges. The golem accomplishes the task he's charged with, but then refuses to bend down and allow the rabbi to erase from his forehead the name of God that gives him life. Because the rabbi has given in to his wife's pleas to use the golem for an unauthorized though charitable purpose, he has lost the power over his creation. Without dramatics, Singer makes a proper mythic melodrama of the early trial, bringing out the historical and elemental reality of the climate of injustice; and his account of the golem's subsequent misdeeds and confusion is all the more effective for reading like an unadorned record. This is strong material, and Singer shrewdly recognizes the psychological and philosophical reverberations without underlining, elaborating, or deviating from the straight account. (The only explicit speculation comes in the dosing suggestion that perhaps love—here the housemaid Miriam's for the golem—"has even more power than a Holy Name.") Shulevitz' black-and-white chiaroscuro illustrations, on the other hand, give the events a remote and serious look and emphasize the monumental lifelessness of the golem. One longs for a glint of life or expression somewhere—but the legend can support Shulevitz' approach. Read full book review >
THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 8, 1982

Forty-seven stories from Singer's 100-plus canon would more appropriately be called "Selected Stories" than "The Collected Stories"—but, if slightly mislabeled, this splendid gathering does indeed embrace the ever-surprising variety of Singer's steady short-story artistry over the past 30 years. Only six of the pieces here have not previously appeared in one of the eight story collections—and they are a slight group: an autobiographical fragment of young, recently-arrived Isaac in Brooklyn (material which appeared, in different form, in the Lost in America memoir); portraits of acquaintances—from literary Warsaw to Central Park West; and two lesser examples of the more mystical Singer of Krochmalna Street. The rest, however, is prime Singer indeed: old-world classics like "Taibele and Her Demon," "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," or "Gimpel the Fool" in zesty tandem with such ironic, autobiographical incident-stories as "The Bus." Dybbuks on one page, taxis on the next, the prose never less than finely airy—here is certainly a grand introduction to Singer for newcomers, even if the recent collection Old Love serves something of the same purpose in far less daunting form. So, with its brief, sly yet tender introduction (the collection is dedicated to the memory of editor Rachel MacKenzie), this will draw in Singer devotees for repeat readings; and it is an essential acquisition, of course, wherever those previous collections are not available. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 20, 1981

Only now and again in these eight stories is the Singer stamp evident—in the appearance of a Yiddish-speaking parakeet at a Brooklyn window one frosty Hannukkah evening, in the eerie extinction of the Hanukkah candles at the same moment in every house in long-ago Bilgoray, on each of the holiday's first seven nights. "The Parakeet Named Dreidel" ends in conventional fairy-tale fashion (after eight years the bird is reclaimed—by a young woman who will marry the son of the house); "The Extinguished Lights" bears up better—the culprit is a vengeful spirit, laid to rest by miraculously lighting the Hanukkah candles outdoors the last night, by her grave. The other stories, however, fall into one or another common inspirational mold. Least supportable is the title story, a blatantly written-down, prettied-up account of a young couple in the Warsaw ghetto who take "hope and strength" from a single, hidden Hanukkah candle and escape to the partisans: "From the day David and Rebecca met the partisans," we're told, "their life became like a tale in a storybook." There's a story of a fawn who appears one Hanukkah evening to a couple who've longed for a child—as foretold by a stranger who's promised the wife a child; a story of a young boy seized for service in the Tsar's army one Hanukkah evening—who returns years later to find his faithful betrothed dead; and a story of a stranger who loses all his gold coins to the children of a poor family one Hanukkah evening—and on whose departure their failing father awakes "a healthy man." Like the others, it's a testament of faith—"Nothing but a miracle could have saved him, so a miracle occurred"—but without the ironies, the fabulous imaginings, the fingertip observations of Singer at his best. Read full book review >
LOST IN AMERICA by Isaac Bashevis Singer
NON-FICTION
Released: June 5, 1981

The Nobel Laureate continues his selective, semi-fictional memoirs—"contributions to an autobiography I never intend to write"—with a third, large-print volume illustrated by Raphael Soyer. It's now 1935, and, "since I didn't possess the courage to kill myself," Isaac must escape from Poland and join his older brother in N.Y. Which means leaving behind his assorted amours: Trotskyite Lena, now pregnant; epically depressed matron Stefa ("If a grave would open for me, I'd jump into it this minute"); and cousin Esther. But Isaac, that "timid adventurer," does manage to get his visa—"I envied the cobblestones in the street, which needed no passports, no visas, no novels, no reviews"—and trembles his way across Europe to the boat at Cherbourg. He's lost on the ship. He fears that his dining-hall card marked "second sitting" is a signal to the waiter "to poison my food." He ends up eating in his cabin, served stale bread and cheese by "a man who could be a prison guard". . .until meeting congenial virgin Zosia (who's headed for Boston). And once settled in Brooklyn, near writer brother Joshua, he's overwhelmed with melancholy: he can't write (though the Yiddish Forward has bought his unfinished novel); he knows no English ("I knew that I would remain a stranger here to my last day"); he has an obsessive affair with an older woman, a haunted widow ("She hadn't lost her husband, she assured me—his spirit had entered by body"). Worse yet, he'll be deported if he doesn't get a permanent visa. So he embarks on a nerve-wracking scheme requiring him to sneak into Canada—and his accomplice is Zosia, who clearly hopes to lose her virginity on the trip. (But this loveless act is unconsummated: "our genitals, which in the language of the vulgar are synonyms of stupidity and insensitivity, are actually the. . .enemies of lechery, the most ardent defenders of true love.") Isaac returns to his cockroach-infested room, Zosia marries a rich oddball, life goes on: "I am lost in America, lost forever." And despite the nonstop laments, this sharp, shapely memoir bounces along quite merrily—with the wicked, ironic grace of three or four overlapping Singer stories. Read full book review >
OLD LOVE by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1979

When do 18 very good stories add up to more than just 18 very good stories? When, as here, they are wisely arranged so as to provide heightened enjoyment: Singer's deadpan, boyhood-town glimpses of sin and greed and mystic doings on Krochmalna Street seem even better when interleaved with his ironic, often downright hilarious stories of being a late-middle-aged writer in New York, Tel Aviv, and Miami Beach. Of the old-Poland tales, "Two" is the obvious standout; somewhat of a companion piece to the famous "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," it quietly chronicles another, more explicitly sexual triumph of transvestitism — the ultimately doomed, homosexual marriage of Ezriel and Zissel. And almost as powerful are whispers of intra-familial jealousies, of rabbis struggling with lust and Satan. But, perhaps because we've come to take the world of Krochmalna Street and the ritual baths for granted, the grandest delights here are the adult, vegetarian Singer's irresistible variations on the theme of oy-vey-how-did-I-get-into-this?: a deadly literary party in the suburbs (and caught afterward in the rain with an awfully nice lady); a distinctly un-literary party in embarrassing, plastic Miami Beach; disastrously stranded naked-on-the-roof in Tel Aviv while pursuing mid-life amour; a nightmare visit to a mad literary refugee couple in Brazil; and an ordeal on a Spanish tour-bus seemingly filled with bickering clinical cases. A varied, bountiful, exuberant collection, then — and a perfect introduction for neophytes to the whole range of Singer's short-story artistry. Read full book review >
A FRIEND OF KAFKA by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 11, 1979

The fifth—and quite possibly the most impressive—collection of Singer's richly crafted tales of Polish ghetto life and curious transmogrifications—from upper Broadway to South America and Europe. Again the loners—tortured rabbis, daredevil heretics, women with outsized yearnings, victims of savage fates—cast the stones that set communities rippling. But in exile the husks of lives still contain ghosts, as rudely, shockingly and mockingly persistent as the demons, dybbuks and evil beings whose exploits chilled the hours of study-hall story telling. A lonely woman appears like a phantom, vainly in love with love, and joins the dead, ultimately, along Broadway; a hoodwinked scholar from abroad, in his coffin, finally turns the joke on his pranksters. And throughout old people rustle with memories and presentiments. In one of the most affecting stories, "The Pigeons," a gentle old Jewish professor dies in Warsaw and a flight of birds above his cortege presage as well as mourn the coming holocaust. Here Singer merges fact, fantasy and folklore in a moment of dreadful congruence. These stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Commentary, Harper's, etc. A seasoned talent which seems to sharpen with the years. Read full book review >
SHOSHA by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 12, 1978

The threat of Nazi occupation throws a fence up around this story of Jewish Warsaw in the Thirties, locking it into patterns of blind dailyness and a sweet, enduring, ultimately fatal foolishness: "so long as Hitler didn't attack, so long as no revolution or pogrom erupted, each day was a gift from God." Singer's familiarly autobiographical writer-protagonist here is named Aaron Greidinger, born Hasidic but rapidly secularized into Warsaw Yiddish literary life and a youth of abundant womanizing. His two main amours are absolutely polar. Betty Slonim, an American actress who's trying to triumph on the Yiddish stage with the backing of her rich sugardaddy Sam Dreiman, can offer Aaron a chance to be famous, to write a play for her, and, best of all, a way out of Poland before the Holocaust comes sweeping down upon them all. But Shosha, Aaron's childhood ghetto friend—a barely matured, runty girl who can't read or write and hardly knows how to even shop in the market—is Aaron's perverse choice. Shosha has a demon who tells her "that God is a chimney sweep, and that when we marry I will wet the bed. He butted me with his horns." She asks simple (and simple-minded) questions about the dead, about sin, about retribution. Since no one else is asking these utterly apt questions—neither the religious nor the literary folks—Shosha is a sort of feeble prophetess; the Warsaw sophisticates look on Hitler as proof of the Messiah's imminent arrival—they believe that things are so bad that they have to get dramatically, redeemingly better. We know they didn't, and Singer knows it, which is maybe why the book seems a little quilty, episodic, short-storyish; history does the bulk of the fictional work here, being the bully, the plot, the denouement. Shosha herself comes off unclearly, unparticularized, as are the rest of the characters except for Aaron/Singer. We miss the vividness, the claustrophobia of superior Singer; indubitably, upsettingly true, the story seems capped—and handicapped—with Destiny. Read full book review >
A YOUNG MAN IN SEARCH OF LOVE by Isaac Bashevis Singer
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1978

As a young man in 1930s Warsaw, Singer lived inconspicuously on the edge of a successful brother's literary circle, tormented by philosophical doubts and youthful skepticisms, involved with a much-older mistress (a typical Singer grotesque) and on intimate terms with other, equally obsessed women. Unlike the garrulous know-it-alls at the Writers Club, he had no conversational case, no political affiliation, and classic insecurities. This second volume of Singer's autobiography, despite its juvenile-looking large type, introduces adult themes: love is no game, human culture seems "one huge and complex fig leaf." Singer wants to write in Yiddish and broadly defends its literary merits but finds contemporary stories lacking in suspense, too often concerned with dull yeshiva boys and their in-laws. Always down to his last zlotyl, he earns a pittance as a careless proofreader and broods on how to proceed. He resolves "to become a narrator of human passion." But imps conspire—buttons fall off inopportunely, knotted shoelaces come untied—and women pursue the unlikely hero: one for sex, one for love, one for a passport-to-Palestine marriage. Besides brother I. J., the best-known background figure is Trotskyite editor Isaac Deutscher—here an outspoken ideologue—but even the peripheral ones, seen from Singer's artful-onlooker perspective, have symptomatic individualities loosely suggested in Raphael Soyer's sketchy drawings and paintings. And on the last page, the most promising of that trio of ladies unexpectedly reappears. We'll stay around. Read full book review >
FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

Margot Zemach's rough sketches are appropriately peasantlike in feeling, though they barely hint at the richness of this collection which has greater range and vitality than any of Singer's previous work for children. The comfortable silliness of the fools of Chelm, who sentence a disrespectful carp to death by drowning, Aunt Yentl's folk-wise tale of a household imp called the lantuch, and the triumph of Lemel, a simpleton swindled by everyone who makes a perfect marriage nonetheless, are joined here by two longer, autobiographical stories which reveal the young Isaac of Krochmalna Street as an inveterate dreamer, bursting with curiosity about the whys and wherefores of science and convinced that the secret, 24-letter name of the Messiah has been revealed to him in his sleep. Where the boy Isaac in A Day of Pleasure (1969) was clearly projected through an older man's reminiscences, this one needs no mediator: he is at once a shameless little schemer and an incipient artist who, upon hearing the tall inventions of a garrulous traveling rabbi, bursts into tears from a mixture of awe, frustration, and envy. Eight sparkling tales in all, and every one begs to be read aloud. A delight. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 1, 1976

This essay will try to relate the experiences of one who considers himself a bit of a mystic," and in the light of Singer's introductory exegesis, one who is also a bit of a seeker, one with a nodding acquaintance with demons and the better angels. Singer returns to his childhood and youth in Poland to chronicle the religious recognitions of a boyhood in which "Jewishness. . . contained all the flavors, all the vitamins, the entire mysticism of faith." But among the labyrinthine wonders of the cabala appeared the chill winds of a new secular science, the lures of modern philosophy, and a growing awareness of human tragedy. From the past Singer summons forth scenes to monitor the soul's journey: incantations mumbled by a small boy on dark stairs; a debate about free will between a pious mother and atheist brother in a winter of near starvation; the abuse of poor Jews by hooligans ("I could have killed myself . . . . What I was seeing was the essence of human history. . ."). Finally there is Singer's own proud "formula"—the neo-philosophic product of fevered reading and speculation, not to mention hunger, illness, and a long night in a lover's bed. "Life was. . . a little dust on the surface of [the earth] . . . transformed into consciousness which in God's dictionary was a synonym for death, protest, goals, suffering, having, asking countless questions and growing entangled in countless contradictions." A plumb line to the rich primal sea of Singer's storytelling. Read full book review >
A TALE OF THREE WISHES by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Released: March 1, 1976

It seems that on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah there's a minute when the sky opens and wishes come true. Anyone who's heard about the trouble wishes can cause (and who hasn't?) will be more tickled than surprised when Esther absentmindedly asks for a blintz at the holy moment, Shlomah is so angry that he wishes Esther were a blintz, and poor Moshe ("when he saw that his beloved Esther had turned into a blintz, he fell into a terrible despair") has to use his chance to make things right again. After this fiasco the Watcher in the Night appears and counsels the children to gain their ambitions "by effort." They do, becoming respectively beautiful, wise and religious (though we'd say that Moshe was the wise one all along) in a conclusion that generates a pious glow but none of the wit characteristic of Singer in full stride. Similarly, Lieblich's small paintings create just the right mood of peasant naivete, but have been positioned in a way that kills the tale's dramatic development, especially when we see Esther wrapped in dough before we know what's happening to her. A moral pleasantry. Read full book review >
PASSIONS by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 6, 1975

The seventh collection of Singer's short stories, again centered on the lives of Yiddish-speaking Polish Jews in Europe and the Americas before and after the holocaust—but here the "whims and passions" which destroy, illuminate, and possess a life, often slip into a supernatural dimension. "Everything can become a passion—even serving God." There are demonic appearances: two witch-like sisters, oddly complementary in temperament, lie in silence as an Evil One approaches their lover in the night; a monstrous, ugly schoolgirl, mad with desire, takes the place of one man's beautiful, selfish dead wife; there is even a howling heifer which echoes the yearning within the heart of a young man. In "Old Love" an elderly man recaptures desire while the woman he would marry commits suicide to join her dead husband—and her death leaves a rich, sensuous sadness and a wonder about why a man is born and why he dies. In "A Sabbath in Portugal" the narrator, invited to a home of Marranos (Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is flooded with remembered Sabbath peace and reunited with a dead beloved. "The Pair" tells of two brilliant but demented sojourners who live within each other's outsized image. Through the twenty stories Singer continues to evolve his characters with the sustained scrutiny of kinship and a candlelit intimacy. Physical presences, speech and circumstances flicker into being as sharply as that cosmic instant in each tale—when a suprareality abruptly becomes as real as a Miami balcony or a winter road in rural Poland. Many of these stories have appeared in the New Yorker. Read full book review >
WHY NOAH CHOSE THE DOVE by Elizabeth Shub
RELIGION
Released: March 15, 1974

Eric Carle couldn't ask for a more suitable showcase than Singer's short and obvious fable about how an elephant, a lion, a fox and 31 other animals vie to be taken onto the ark — each one claiming priority on grounds of being strongest, largest, cleverest, or whatever. At last the dove, when his turn comes round, reminds them all anticlimactically that "each one of us has something the other does not have" and Noah agrees that there is no need to boast and compete, for God has ordered him to take creatures of all kinds. Actually the pictures only strengthen our suspicion that Carle can't illustrate a story; instead he merely displays his one-note repertoire of flat, collagey animal portraits. Of course the sheer scale and number of animals on parade could make this a nursery success. Read full book review >
THE FOOLS OF CHELM AND THEIR HISTORY by Elizabeth Shub
FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1973

Singer's broadside history reminds us that the population of Chelm consists of no one but fools, and they've known nothing but trouble ever since Gronam Ox, first ruler and Sage of Sages, invented the word crisis. Chelm is then perceived to be So badly off that the council of sages (Dopey, Numskull, etc.) agrees that only a war can save the village, and though the soldiers end up invading the wrong town, never mind: "The truth is, the whole world considers us fools. No matter whom we attack, it will be exactly what they deserve." Instead it's the invaders who get what they deserve, and as "a lost war sooner or later is followed by a revolution, that is what happened in Chelm." But the rebel's decree against money only aggravates the discontent and confusion, so Feitel the thief takes over — only to be replaced, when his policies lead to further disaster, by Gronam and the sages back from exile. At last the Women's Party, led by Gronam's wife Yente Pesha, decides to run the government while the men do the dishes — "but Gronam remains optimistic: 'The future is bright. The chances are good that some day the whole world will be one great Chelm!'" Shulevitz' view of all parties — the gaping, head-scratching sages, the toothless, club-waving mob, Feitel's sinister thugs with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, and the orating yentes wielding rolling pins — is as consistently dim as Singer's; the Chelmites' universal uncomeliness in both pictures and action is relieved only by the ludicrous extent of the caricature. Read full book review >
ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 26, 1972

It is a measure of Singer's strength that he is able to utilize what is essentially a familiar farcical situation — a man married to three wives — to scour the empty room of one human soul pursued by the echoes of real and terrible enemies. Herman Broder, now living in Brooklyn with his Polish peasant wife, Yadwiga, whom he married in gratitude (she hid him from the Nazis), has a mistress, Masha, also a refugee. Then the wife Tamara, whom he believed had died with their children, miraculously returns. "When a man hides in an attic for years, he ceases to be a part of society. . . . I'm still hiding in an attic." And among unreal shadows Herman sees survival in terms of deceit by both men and God ("God? Whose God?") as he is drawn to each woman again and again, goaded by his own "demon adversary." He marries Masha, allows Tamara to organize his life, and is about to have a child by Yadwiga. Restless lies eventually trap him — Masha commits suicide, the good Tamara undertakes the care of Yadwiga and the child, and Herman, without peace and without hope, announces "I will leave everybody." This is not among Singer's most successful works — the women seen through Broder's feverish desolation are unfinished; but forced into a bizarre domestic triangle they lose their symbolic intensity. However, as a portrait of a holocaust victim dead to life, this is difficult to shrug off or forget. Enemies appeared in 1966 in The Jewish Daily Forward. Read full book review >
THE WICKED CITY by Isaac Bashevis Singer
NONFICTION
Released: March 15, 1972

The cautionary chronicle of Lot, elaborately embroidered: his sojourn in Sodom, his nick-of-time escape aided by Abraham and the two angels, his wife's well-known transformation, and his subsequent stay in the desert with his two daughters who "found a cave. . . and lived like savages. . . in filth and sin." Lot initially breaks with Abraham not after a dispute, as in Genesis, but with the words "I do not wish to remain a burden to you." More jarring is the deviation from the spirit of the original in Abraham's description of his God to the people of Sodom: "He is all merciful and provides for all that lives." Admittedly, Singer gives a particularizing fictional dimension to the story and the characters. Lot, for example, is a lawyer well known for his defense of criminals, "very shrewd" but with "little feeling for justice." He thrives in Sodom, where there is great demand for his services, becoming (as crime and its defense is officially sanctioned) "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sodom." When Abraham comes to visit, Lot resists the urging of his more ruthless wife to kill the old man and talks her into leaving town with their guests just in case they speak the truth. (They don't bother to lock the door behind them, because in Sodom "lock breaking was even studied by children in school.") Such a depiction of the city verges on the comic — its Topsy Turvy legal system makes no sense otherwise — but Singer also seems to expect us to take the evil and its destruction in dead earnest; certainly Fisher's brooding, dark wine prints underline the somber import of it all as they document Lot's progression from cunning and greed to wild-eyed depravity. Altogether, this is no more outrageous a violation than, say, Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales, but Singer's uneasy blend of the mythic and the colloquial make it hard to swallow whole, even with all those grains of salt. Read full book review >
ALONE IN THE WILD FOREST (AN ARIEL BOOK) by Elizabeth Shub
Released: Sept. 15, 1971

Somewhere between Singer's universally compelling folk tales and his flatly pious fables is this story of a good man who wins the princess and a bad man redeemed after doing penance with a beastly witch in the forest. Vile enchantments and magical transformations make for some diverting episodes, and Margot Zemach's softly sly drawings provide the perfect accompaniment — but neither the good nor the evil have the force so effectively demonstrated in The Fearsome Inn (1967) Read full book review >
ELIJAH THE SLAVE by Elizabeth Shub
FAIRY TALES, FOLKTALES AND MYTHS
Released: Nov. 1, 1970

Heavenly intercession spawns many legends but it takes more than providence to make a story. Summarily, Tobias the scribe loses the use of his right hand and so his livelihood; shortly, Elijah, a messenger from God, not only removes his disability but vastly improves his lot — this by insisting that Tobias sell him as a slave and promising a palace to the highest bidder. Which done, he is free to return to heaven. Arid — and the illustrations pose gaunt, awkward figures derived from early medieval miniatures against sweeping bands of color: the effect is mannered, discordant, altogether offputting for children. Read full book review >
JOSEPH AND KOZA by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Released: Sept. 29, 1970

A Michelangelesque setting for a simple story of how Joseph, a goldsmith of Jerusalem, brought the word of God to Mazovia, a Polish realm on the Vistula, challenging the practice of human sacrifice, discrediting the witch Zla and the evil spirits she invokes, and gaining the love of Koza, the Chieftain's beautiful daughter who was to have been offered to the river. At best, the dimensions and the highly assertive design would have dwarfed the story (that they unfit the book for any specific audience goes without saying); but Mr. Shimin is simply not draftsman enough to prevail in such a style and on such a scale. His crayoned sepia figures are flaccid: there is not a bone in their bodies, no conviction in their contours. Often the anatomy is awkward, the gestures theatrical. In sum, the exhibit format is unwarranted as well as impractical. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1969

Growing up in Warsaw with Mr. Singer offers more than a day of pleasure to families who joined him In My Father's Court, from which fourteen of these nineteen episodes are adapted. But the elevenish contemporary of "Itchele" who lacks the East European frame of reference that these autobiographical sketches demand may have trouble relating to the bittersweetness of the Hasidic upbringing as the lonely son of the rabbi of Krochmalna Street; to his mysterious joy-fear on contemplating the Cabala; to the esoteric character of his family's Jewish orthodoxy; to the distance between Jew and Gentile so absolute and so very enduring…Mr. Singer's words as Grandfather-storyteller are best read aloud and interpreted by a grandfather who shares his memories, who can communicate Singer's hindsights with the authority and spirit of his insights, who can mediate between Singer's remoteness to the child and his greatness. 9-11Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Oct. 1, 1969

Growing up in Warsaw with Mr. Singer offers more than a day of pleasure to families who joined him In My Father's Court, from which fourteen of these nineteen episodes are adapted. But the elevenish contemporary of "Itchele" who lacks the East European frame of reference that these autobiographical sketches demand may have trouble relating to the bittersweetness of his Hasidic upbringing as the lonely son of the rabbi of Krochmalna Street; to his mysterious joy-fear on contemplating the Cabala; to the esoteric character of his family's Jewish orthodoxy; to the distance between Jew and Gentile so absolute and so very enduring. . . . Mr. Singer's words as Grandfather-storyteller are best read aloud and interpreted by a grandfather who shares his memories, who can communicate Singer's hindsights with the authority and spirit of his insights, who can mediate between Singer's remoteness to the child and his greatness. Read full book review >
THE SEANCE AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 14, 1968

The fourth collection of stories by the spiritual heir to Sholom Aleichem, unique in their variety of approach and emotional scope. Singer decorates, infuses his tales with the rituals and talismans of Russian-Polish Jewish folklore, in which Death is a frequent, if often bawdy, visitor. Within the body of a young girl two disreputable dybbuks shriek obscenities at one another, participate in a marriage of convenience; a corpse is sent forth to terrorize his remarried widow; a termagant raises hellfire even after death. In the acceptance of death is a bounding life: only when the knowledge of death is obscured is there the terror of exile. In the title story, an elderly, ill refugee, bemused, visits a medium, but suddenly is forced to accept his own defeat and impotence when a faulty superstructure of life-affirmation crumbles. Men fight their natures with perilous results: a ritual slaughterer, who hates to kill, destroys himself; a man who mimics the life of another comes to grief; a rabbi who could not suppress an unkind thought does penance. In the careful strata of community life the victims sink like stones; the favored ones thrive. Exuberant humor, a somber regard for the sacred mysteries of human destinies, and magnificent story telling. Read full book review >
THE MANOR by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 30, 1967

Isaac Singer's novel, set in Poland during the latter half of the 19th century, is a sprawling family history—the fates of Calman Jacoby, rural Jewish businessman, and his four daughters (or rather the destinies determined through their marriages). The oldest, Jochebed, marries a stuffy man who eventually takes over Calman's business; Shaindel marries a bright man who will be a doctor and eventually take a mistress because Shaindel stays ignorant and becomes fat; Miriam Lieba runs away with a worthless Gentile and endures grinding poverty; Tsipele is married off to a serious young man who unwillingly becomes a Hassidic leader. Then there's Calman's second marriage, an unhappy one.... Through these sporadically developed domestic dramas are seen the backwardness of Polish life at that time, the erratic politics, the conflict of old Jewish life and modern thought. Singer has his readership which will not find that the heavily descriptive Jewish lore slows the narrative or a natural curiosity in its outcome. Read full book review >
THE FEARSOME INN by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FANTASY
Released: Sept. 1, 1967

Impacted writing and resplendent illustration at the service of an authentically harrowing, distinctively satisfying story: it starts with Satan and ends with heavenly light, and you believe it. For many years Doboshova, the witch, and Lapitut, her half-devil husband, have preyed upon the travelers who come to their inn; as servants, they hold captive three girls, Reitze, Leitze and Neitze. On a stormy day, three young men arrive, and one among them, Leibel, a student of the cabala, has a magic gift, a piece of chalk that will imprison anyone in the circle he draws. While the three are washing before dinner, each has a nightmare; before they can take a bite of the food that will deprive them of all will, Leibel recognizes Doboshova and Lapitut as the witch and monster in his dream. By a ruse, he locks them in a circle of chalk, and the threats and ruses of all the evil spirits of the forest are of no avail: Leibel will not free them until they agree in blood to go away forever. This done, the six sort themselves out and marry quite satisfactorily (though all three girls wanted Leibel to start with). Leibel and Neitze remain at the inn, running it as a hostel, and in time it becomes known, through his studies, as the greatest academy of the cabala. The synopsis is and is not the story: always there is ancient magic pitted against ancient mischief, and an occasional turn of the screw. The drawings have to be seen, as does the book, impeccably produced down to paper and type; the story must be read, by adults as well as children, but best together. Read full book review >
IN MY FATHER'S COURT by Isaac Bashevis Singer
NON-FICTION
Released: May 2, 1966

Isaac Bashevis Singer's recollections of No. 10 Korochmalna Street in Warsaw where his father officiated as a rabbi and took on the legal duties of that estate, offers him ample opportunity to give scope to his portrayal of ghetto characters. A shaman at storytelling, Singer writes of the determined sacrifice of an elderly wife for her equally elderly husband which required the bewildered man to divorce her and remarry a young m girl shortly before his death; of Mose Blecher, who wore the look of the Holy Land on his face, and went there, only to return to his old home; the young man with the malevolent wife who came for a dispensation from his marriage only to decide after trudging across the country for one hundred rabbinical signatures to remain in wedded unhappiness; the atheist who blackmailed rabbis for a handout by revealing his wickedness and leaving the community only when remunerated. Singer's own experiences—the, day he saw the Vistula, the trip to Bilgoray to visit his mother's relatives, where he saw a girl with dark eyes and knew that he was ready for "love"—are effortlessly interwoven with the tales of neighbors. Effortlessness is a quality of Singer's writing, as is its endemic richness- and the rightness for its material, and it reads with as much ease as it appears to be written. Read full book review >
THE SLAVE by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 11, 1962

Set in 17th century Poland, at a time when marauding Ukranian Cossacks perpetrated the most helnous of crimes against the Jewish populace, Singer's novel traces the development of Taimudle scholar Jacob Josefov from his literal bondage among the pagan-Christian peasants to his existential freedom from the fetters of doctrinal commitment. By marrying the daughter of his master, against judaic, Christian and Polish law, Jacob sets himself and his wife Wanda apart from the community of men. Though they do finally settle among Jacob's people, wanda, lest she reveal her background, must feign muteness. She is cut off from all but Jacob. And Jacob himself is isolated by his love for Wanda. Wanda is silent until the pangs of childbirth and the awareness of impending death compel her to speak. She speaks and dies. The community refuses to inter her body in Jewish soil. Jacob must take his infant son and fice. And it is then, aware finally of the simplicity of man-to-God relationship and the complexity of that which involves man and man, man and himself, that he releases himself from the trappings of law to become a free man and a prophet among his people. Singer, along with Cecil Hemicy, has translated his own work. And a remarkable job it is: The descriptions of pagan barbarism, the filth of poverty, the legacy of plunder are overwhelmingly graphic. Jacob's quite modern plight is superbly delineated. Exciting, exotic, quite moving, The Slave could do very well indeed. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1961

The title story in this collection is a quaint study of an eccentric, fading philosopher in Warsaw just before World War I. Dr. Nahun Fischelson's nose is buried in Spinoza's Ethics and his murky eye confronts the future. But a strange romance comes into his life which the reader follows with all the delight of a fairytale. The folklore of Isaac Bashevis Singer reveals fanciful worlds inhabited by marriage brokers, derelicts, rabbis possessed by the devil, moneylenders, ghosts, dybbuks, attended by all the rituals, superstitions and behavior of antique Jewish custom. Some of the stories are narrated by Satan who wants to share with us the downfall of a perverse young lady or gentleman. All the stories are steeped in the realities of Jewish life in Poland many years earlier but the plots are hustled into bizarre shapes by the wild profusion of strange characters. One of the most endearing in the collection is set in a poorhouse where Jonah the Thief and Bashe the Whore tell the story of their lives to a companion. There is a very old, durable and sage glow to these stories; the translators deserve kudos. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1960

The position of Yasha Mazur in nineteenth century Poland was doubly anomalous: as a prestidigitator, hypnotist, and tight rope performer, par excellence, he mingled with and was acclaimed by every level of society and at the same time consigned to the statusless ranks of the bohemian; as a half-Jew he suffered all the restrictions placed on non-Gentiles in that society without enjoying the spiritual security the ghetto provided observant Jews. Brilliant and magnetic, Yasha finds solace in the women who love him—his wife, his partner, a prostitute, and, finally, a cultured Christian widow. And then his solace turns into his purgatory as he allows his love for the widow to develop into a serious relationship which demands that he upset the balance of his life, abandon his other obligations, and go with her. Yasha's complex infidelities, the inevitable by-product of his search for inner coherence, lead to a suicide. Overpowered with guilt, Yasha abandons the art at which he excels, returns to his wife and the Jewish community, and walled up in an improvised cell, lives the repentant life of the hermit, a spiritual source of strength for his neighbors, who, still convinced of his magic properties, seek council from him. This well written novel represents a departure from the more familiar literature of Eastern European Jewry in that Yasha spans two societies, wrestling with the angels of both. He is a ghetto Jew, strongly influenced by the standards of that society, and yet he is a modern man, attached to order, form, and tradition by only the most casual links. Almost a parable, Yasha of Lublin will have intense sympathizers, primarily among Jewish readers. Read full book review >
GIMPEL THE FOOL by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 21, 1957

Twelve short stories stem from Jewish life in Poland and, while most have a folk-legend quality, there are a few which have a contemporary setting. Ritualistic practice colors them all. Some have appeared in English in magazines, two have been included in Yiddish anthologies; but this is the first collection of this writer's stories. Devils and imps bewitch and bewilder individuals and communities; a hungry old man is not defeated in making his way to a land where there is food; a rabbi grows strong in his beliefs; the last descendants of a long line of shoemakers do not lose their heritage when they emigrate to America; a grave digger becomes a beggar; a man who has had four wives is branded a wife killer; a simple man withstands the taunts of his neighbors and the betrayals of his wife; a divorced husband becomes the living dead.....Various translators have kept the simplicity and native characteristics of the stories which, in their sly mirroring of human frailties and their compassion for man's attempts to be strong, have a universal note. Read full book review >
SATAN IN GORAY by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 4, 1955

A strange story for modern readers of a tiny town on 17th century Poland, where first the Jewish population is decimated by the marauding Cossacks- then, as they creep back to reestablish their homes and businesses, comes the news of a Messiah, in the person of Sabbatai Zevi. The townspeople approach the High Holidays with asceticism, in expectation. When the Messiah does not come, they turn to religious hysteria and license. And, central to this, is the story of Rechele, crippled, epileptic, but still desired of men. She has wed one man, but he has failed her. Reb Gedalyia, who had brought news of the new Messiah, sends her husband and another on a mission; he moves in with Rechele, and so opens the door for Satan, who possesses her as a fiend, a dybbuk. As the devil's bride she is tormented and defiled, and- with the return of the missionaries and the word that Zevi, presumed Messiah, has taken the fez, the townspeople seize her, and the story ends with the ritual of exorcism- and her death. A weird tale of religious hysteria and mania, of superstition and violence. For a very limited audience — not that of his contemporary novel, The Family Moskat. Read full book review >
THE FAMILY MOSKAT by Isaac Bashevis Singer
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 15, 1950

A closely meshed, heavily patterned family saga, this covers the years from before World War I and up to the bombing of Warsaw of World War II in the fortunes of the Mosk. Reb Meshulam Moskat, through his unpredictable actions, has acquired great wealth and notoriety in Warsaw's ghetto and when at 80 he marries for the third time he adds to his legend. His new step-daughter, Adele, and his granddaughter, Hadassah, are both attracted to the provincial greenhorn, Asa Heshel Bannet but although it is Hadassah he loves, It is Adele he marries and the triangle continues until he meets Barbara. After Meshulam's death, through the years the family's way changes — there is a break to America, to Palestine, they die, marry, fight, argue, they watch the shifts during the war and see the family fortune, most of which has been stolen by their father's agent, dissipate as does their adherence to the Chassidic group and with the bombing it is Death who is the messiah for all. A detailed accounting of a part of the past, of a type of life and people now wiped out, this is impressive in its scope. Read full book review >