ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER: The Story of a Storyteller by Paul Kresh

ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER: The Story of a Storyteller

Email this review


Kresh, author of an undistinguished but conscientious adult biography of the Nobel-winner (Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1979), pares down the material from that long, dullish book into a short, dullish book--with none of the color and drama to be found in Singer's own semi-fictionalized memoirs. The very young Isaac is followed from small-town Poland to Warsaw's Krochmalna Street, with the emphasis on his parents' contrasting Jewish backgrounds (Hasidic vs. Mitnagged) and contrasting personalities: ""Those two qualities, the emotional and the intellectual, came together in Isaac Singer, and they didn't always get along inside him. . . . Isaac seemed to resemble both his mystical father and his practical mother--to be at the same time both a realist and a dreamer, Hasid and Mitnagged rolled into one."" There's solid treatment of the influence of Isaac's older writer-brother Joshua, who rebelled against strict family-traditions and led the way to forbidden secular books, to modern city ways, to literary realism: soon Isaac ""didn't see why it couldn't be possible for a Jewish writer to describe life, including Jewish life, as it really was, not sugarcoated with pretty romantic lies."" Kresh, tracing both brothers' path to America, notes that Isaac didn't come into his own till his 40s, after Joshua's death, ""out of the shadow of his brother's fame and powerful personality."" Singer's largely uneventful life, however, doesn't lend itself very well to short-episode summary; the internal drama of his personal life (romances, illegitimate fatherhood, marriage to a divorced woman who had to give up her children) is glossed over. So the narrative has little momentum, eventually winding down into a series of subject-matter sketches: Singer's lifestyle; his novels and stories; his writing for children; the stage/film adaptations --including Yentl (which Singer dislikes); and the Nobel Prize ceremonies. Wellinformed and reasonably thoughtful--but more effective as a reference item (despite loose, blurry organization) than as an involving life-story, especially when compared to Singer's four volumes of evocative autobiography or A Day of Pleasure, adapted for young people from In My Father's Court.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1984
Publisher: Lodestar/Dutton