Isaac Bashevis Singer
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than Singer's. Singer's hero is David Bendiner, 19, a penniless and starving writer whose only claim to fame is an unpublished manuscript, Spinoza and the Cabala.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.