Enchanting sketches of a lost world.
This collection picks up on Singer’s earlier volume (In My Father’s Court, not reviewed), offering sketches of the Warsaw rabbinical court over which Singer’s father presided. The vignettes were originally published in Yiddish in the Daily Forward, and this marks their first English publication. Packed with delightful characters (from Chaim the locksmith—who was really a plumber—to the butcher’s wife), this is more than just a collection of eccentric snapshots. The essays also contain the small gems of insight that have so distinguished Singer’s novels. In “A Hasidic Rebbe on the Street,” the author explores the drive to assimilate, while “The Tinsmith and the Housemaid” argues that “Our inner attitude and our outer circumstances are closely bound together.” Marriage preoccupies Singer: he remembers a traveling salesman he knew, and tries to figure out why the man was so blasé about being away from his family. He recalls Friedele, married to the “irascible” Yechiel, and wonders if she is destined—as an old Jewish folktale suggests—to spend the afterlife as his footstool. In “An Unusual Wedding,” a Jewish artisan comes before Singer’s father to marry a prostitute. Readers also see a slice of the author’s family life: in “The Gift,” a woman who appeared before Singer’s father to have a dispute settled tries to give little Isaac a coin, but his father forbids her (saying he will just buy candy and ruin his teeth). Isaac is devastated, and thus comes to learn a little about the pain and humiliation that all of humanity endure on a daily basis.
Sure to delight all those Singer fans—especially those who feared that a fifth posthumous collection would never hit the shelves.