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Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) is considered one of the most prominent figures in Jewish-American literature, a movement that originated in the 1930s and is known for its tragicomic elements.

Malamud's stories and novels, in which reality and fantasy are frequently interlaced, have been compared to parables, myths, and allegories and often illustrate the importance of moral obligation. Although he draws upon his Jewish heritage to address the themes of sin, suffering, and redemption, Malamud emphasizes human contact and compassion over orthodox religious dogma. Malamud's characters, while often awkward and isolated from society, evoke both pity and humor through their attempts at survival and salvation. Sheldon J. Hershinow observed: "Out of the everyday defeats and indignities of ordinary people, Malamud creates beautiful parables that capture the joy as well as the pain of life; he expresses the dignity of the human spirit searching for freedom and moral growth in the face of hardship, injustice, and the existential anguish of life.

Malamud was born April 28, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents, whom he described as "gentle, honest, kindly people," were not highly educated and knew very little about literature or the arts: "There were no books that I remember in the house, no records, music, pictures on the wall." Malamud attended high school in Brooklyn and received his Bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1936. After graduation, he worked in a factory and as a clerk at the Census Bureau in Washington, D. C. Although he wrote in his spare time, Malamud did not begin writing seriously until the advent of World War II and the subsequent horrors of the Holocaust. He questioned his religious identity and started reading about Jewish tradition and history. He explained: "I was concerned with what Jews stood for, with their getting down to the bare bones of things. I was concerned with their ethnicality—how Jews felt they had to live in order to go on living." In 1949, he began teaching at Oregon State University; he left this post in 1961 to teach creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont. He remained there until shortly before his death in 1986.

Malamud's first novel, The Natural (1952), is considered one of his most symbolic works. While the novel ostensibly traces the life of Roy Hobbs, an American baseball player, the work has underlying mythic elements and explores such themes as initiation and isolation. For instance, some reviewers cited evidence of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail; others applied T. S. Eliot's "wasteland" myth in their analyses. The Natural also fore-shadows what would become Malamud's predominant narrative focus: a suffering protagonist struggling to reconcile moral dilemmas, to act according to what is right, and to accept the complexities and hardships of existence. Malamud's second novel, The Assistant (1957), portrays the life of Morris Bober, a Jewish immigrant who owns a grocery store in Brooklyn. Although he is struggling to survive financially, Bober hires a cynical anti-Semitic youth, Frank Alpine, after learning that the man is homeless and on the verge of starvation. Through this contact Frank learns to find grace and dignity in his own identity. Described as a naturalistic fable, this novel affirms the redemptive value of maintaining faith in the goodness of the human soul. Malamud's first collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel (1958), was awarded the National Book award in 1959. Like The Assistant, most of the stories in this collection depict the search for hope and meaning within the grim entrapment of poor urban settings and were influenced by Yiddish folktales and Hasidic traditions. Many of Malamud's best-known short stories, including "The Last Mohican," "Angel Levine," and "Idiots First," were republished in The Stories of Bernard Malamud in 1983.

A New Life (1961), considered one of Malamud's most realistic novels, is based in part on Malamud's teaching career at Oregon State University. This work focuses on an ex-alcoholic Jew from New York City who, in order to escape his reputation as a drunkard, becomes a professor at an agricultural and technical college in the Pacific Northwest. Interweaving the protagonist's quest for significance and self-respect with a satiric mockery of academia, Malamud explores the destructive nature of idealism, how love can lead to deception, and the pain of loneliness. Malamud's next novel, The Fixer (1966), is considered one of his most powerful works. The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this book is derived from the historical account of Mendel Beiliss, a Russian Jew who was accused of murdering a Christian child. Drawing upon Eastern European Jewish mysticism, The Fixer turns this terrifying story of torture and humiliation into a parable of human triumph. With The Tenants (1971), Malamud returns to a New York City setting, where the theme of self-exploration is developed through the contrast between two writers, one Jewish and the other black, struggling to survive in an urban ghetto. Within the context of their confrontations about artistic standards, Malamud also explores how race informs cultural identity, the purpose of literature, and the conflict between art and life. Alvin B. Kernan commented: "[The Tenants] is extraordinarily powerful and compelling in its realization of the view that is central to the conception of literature as a social institution: that literature and the arts are an inescapable part of society."

Malamud further addresses the nature of literature and the role of the artist in Dubin's Lives (1979). In this work, the protagonist, William Dubin, attempts to create a sense of worth for himself, both as a man and as a writer. A biographer who escapes into his work to avoid the reality of his life, Dubin bumbles through comically disastrous attempts at love and passion in an effort to find self-fulfillment. Malamud's next novel, God's Grace (1982), differs from his earlier works in scope and presentation of subject matter. Set in the near future immediately after a nuclear disaster which leaves only one human being alive, God's Grace explores the darkness of human morality, the nature of God, and the vanity and destruction associated with contemporary life. Critical reception to this work varied greatly. Some critics felt that the contrast between the serious moral fable and the protagonist's penchant for alternately conversing with God and a group of apes unique and challenging; others believed the structure of the novel did not support the seriousness and ambition of its themes. However, God's Grace, like all of his works, reveals Malamud's motivations as a writer and expresses his profound humanistic concerns. Malamud explained: "It seems to me that the writer's most important task, no matter what the current theory of man, or his prevailing mood, is to recapture his image as human being as each of us in his secret heart knows it to be."

Further Reading

Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1986.

Detroit News, March 23, 1986.

Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1986.

New Republic, May 12, 1986.

Newsweek, March 31, 1986.

New York Times, March 20, 1986.

Times (London), March 20, 1986.

Washington Post, March 20, 1986.

Alter, Iska, The Good Man's Dilemma: Social Criticism in the Fiction of Bernard Malamud, AMS Press, 1981.

Astro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson, editors, The Fiction of Bernard Malamud, Oregon State University Press, 1977.

Avery, Evelyn G., Rebels and Victims: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Bernard Malamud, Kennikat, 1979.

Baumbach, Jonathan, The Landscape of Nightmare: Studies in the Contemporary American Novel, New York University Press, 1965.

Bilik, Dorothy Seldman, Immigrant-Survivors: Post-Holocaust Consciousness in Recent Jewish-American Literature, Wesleyan University Press, 1981.

Bloom, Harold, Bernard Malamud, Chelsea House, 1986.

Cohen, Sandy, Bernard Malamud and the Trial by Love, Rodopi (Amsterdam), 1974. □

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Malamud, Bernard

Bernard Malamud

Born: April 26, 1914
Brooklyn, New York
Died: March 18, 1986
New York, New York

American author

Bernard Malamud is considered one of the most prominent figures in Jewish American literature, a movement that began in the 1930s and is known for its combination of tragic and comic elements.

Early life

Bernard Malamud was born on April 26, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York, the first of Max and Bertha Fidelman Malamud's two sons. His parents, whom he described as "gentle, honest, kindly people," had come to the United States from Russia in the early 1900s and ran their own grocery store. They were not highly educated and knew very little about literature or the arts. "There were no books that I remember in the house, no records, music, pictures on the wall," Malamud said. Malamud liked to read and to attend a local Yiddish (the language spoken by Jews in Europe) theater. He began to try to write stories of his own.

Malamud attended high school in Brooklyn and received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1936. After graduation he worked in a factory and as a clerk at the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. Although he wrote in his spare time, Malamud did not begin writing seriously until hearing of the horrors of the Holocaust, when the Germans, led by Adolf Hitler (18891945), put six million Jewish people to death during World War II (193945; a war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States battled Germany, Italy, and Japan). Malamud also began reading about Jewish tradition and history. In 1949 he started teaching at Oregon State University. He left this post in 1961 to teach creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont, where he remained until shortly before his death.

First works

Malamud's first novel, The Natural (1952), traces the life of Roy Hobbs, an American baseball player. The book has mythic elements and explores such themes as initiation and isolation. Malamud's second novel, The Assistant (1957), tells the story of Morris Bober, a Jewish immigrant who owns a grocery store in Brooklyn. Although he is struggling to make ends meet, Bober hires an anti-Semitic (prejudiced against Jewish people) youth, whom he learns is homeless and on the verge of starvation. This novel shows the value of maintaining faith in the goodness of the human soul. Malamud's first collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel (1958), was awarded the National Book Award in 1959. Many of Malamud's best-known short stories were republished in The Stories of Bernard Malamud in 1983.

A New Life (1961), considered one of Malamud's most true-to-life novels, is based in part on Malamud's teaching career at Oregon State University. This work focuses on an ex-alcoholic Jew from New York City who becomes a professor at a college in the Pacific Northwest. It examines the main character's search for self-respect, while poking fun at life at a learning institution. Malamud's next novel, The Fixer (1966), is one of his most powerful works. The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this book is based on the historical account of Mendel Beiliss, a Russian Jew who was accused of murdering a Christian child. With The Tenants (1971), Malamud returns to a New York City setting in a contrast between two writersone Jewish and the other African Americanstruggling to survive in an urban ghetto (the run-down part of a city).

Later years

In Dubin's Lives (1979), which took Malamud over five years to write, the main character, William Dubin, attempts to create a sense of worth for himself, both as a man and as a writer. Malamud's last finished novel, God's Grace (1982), studies both the original Holocaust and a new, imagined Holocaust of the future. The novel is a wild, at times brilliant, at times confusing, description of a flood similar to that in the Bible story of Noah's ark.

Malamud continued to place stories in top American magazines. Mervyn Rothstein reported in the New York Times that Malamud said at the end of his life, "With me, it's story, story, story." In Malamud's next-to-last collection, Rembrandt's Hat, only one story, "The Silver Crown," deals with Jewish themes.

Malamud's final, unfinished work, "The Tribe," concerns the adventures of a Russian Jewish peddler, Yozip, among the western Native American Indians. Malamud gave few interviews, but those he did grant provided the best insight into his work, as when he told Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times: "People say I write so much about misery, but you write about what you write best." Bernard Malamud died on March 18, 1986.

For More Information

Alter, Iska. The Good Man's Dilemma: Social Criticism in the Fiction of Bernard Malamud. New York: AMS Press, 1981.

Astro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson. eds. The Fiction of Bernard Malamud. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1977.

Avery, Evelyn. The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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Malamud, Bernard

Bernard Malamud (măl´əməd), 1914–86, American author, b. New York City, grad. College of the City of New York (B.A., 1936), Columbia (M.A., 1942). His works frequently reflect a concern with Jewish tradition and the nobility of the humble man as well as with the burdens of conscience and the redemptive nature of suffering. His novel The Fixer (1966; Pulitzer Prize), set in czarist Russia, reveals the courage of a handyman falsely accused by the government of ritual murder. The Tenants (1971) describes the confrontation of two writers—one Jewish, one African American—and probes the nature of the art of writing. Among his other works are the novels The Natural (1952), A New Life (1961), Dubin's Lives (1979), and God's Grace (1982); and the short-story collections The Magic Barrel (1958), Idiots First (1963), and Rembrandt's Hat (1973), gathered together in The Collected Stories (1997).

See biography by P. Davis (2007), memoir by his daughter, J. M. Smith (2006); studies by J. Helterman (1985), J. Salzberg, ed. (1987), S. Solotaroff (1989), E. A. Abramson (1993), P. Davis (1995), and M. U. Shaw (2000).

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Malamud, Bernard

Malamud, Bernard (1914–86) US novelist and short-story writer. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, his common theme is the nature of a Jewish identity. His novels include The Assistant (1957) and A New Life (1961). Malamud won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Fixer (1966).

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Malamud, Bernard

MALAMUD, BERNARD

MALAMUD, BERNARD (1914–1986), U.S. novelist. Born in New York City, Malamud began to teach in 1939, went west to Oregon State College (an experience used in his third novel, A New Life, 1961), and later taught at Harvard. Malamud was elected president of the American pen Club for 1980. One of the most significant of the younger generation of mid-20th century American writers, Malamud was profoundly influenced by realistic novelists such as Dostoievski. His first novel, The Natural (1952), about the rise and fall of a baseball hero, was a brilliant tour de force, displaying a characteristic mixture of realistic detail, vernacular language, and free-ranging symbolism and fantasy. Malamud found his true voice, however, with his second novel, The Assistant (1957), and a collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel (1958). With magnificent virtuosity and integrity, he (like Saul *Bellow) used a dialect of American English mixed with Yiddish, and succeeded in transferring to the American scene the intense moral concern, the comic yet pathetic irony, and the traditional situations of East European Jewish culture. Within the narrower Jewish world, he wrote with special love about the idealistic shlimmazel, the obscure and the lonely and the suffering, as in the title story of Idiots First (1963); this is also the case with Morris Bober, the grocer protagonist of The Assistant. Another recurring theme is the relations between Jews and gentiles: the New York Italian assistant falls in love with Bober's daughter and finally becomes a Jew; stories set in Italy deal with love between Jewish men and gentile women; and "Angel Levine" and "Black is My Favorite Color" are concerned with Jews and blacks. Malamud was deeply conscious of the role of the Jew as a symbol of the human tragedy. All his concerns were fused, and grew in scope and significance, in The Fixer (1966), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 and was made into a motion picture. Yakov Bok, a Russian-Jewish handyman falsely accused of ritual murder, is based on Mendel *Beilis, victim of the notorious Kiev Blood Libel of 1913. An obscure little man in flight from his heritage, Bok is thrust into a situation requiring unusual courage. The stages by which he comes to a full understanding of his responsibility, and develops the strength of will to face his ordeal, are powerfully described. Malamud said of this novel: "The drama is as applicable to the American people as it is to the Russian." Pictures of Fidelman (1969), subtitled "An Exhibition," uses three previously collected stories, and adds three more, about the picaresque misadventures of an American-Jewish artist in Italy. In Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice, Arthur Fidelman seeks both "perfection of the life" and "of the work"; in each city, he works at a different art or problem, and lives with a different woman. At the end, "Prometheus Fidelman" has learned his limitations: back in the U.S., "he worked as a craftsman in glass and loved men and women." In "Pictures of the Artist," a "Jewish refugee from Israel" named Susskind is imagined preaching a sort of parody of the Sermon on the Mount. The Tenants (1971), a novel of clashing aspirations and dislikes dramatized by a Jewish and an African-American writer, also represents the struggle of writers appropriating subjects and histories that exhaust their sense of the human. In Dubin's Lives (1979), arguably one of Malamud's finest works, Dubin, a biographer whose life is lived largely in books, is forced to confront the disruptive yet life-giving nature of passion. In God's Grace (1982), Malamud dramatizes the Jewish dialogue with a God of awe and the understanding we have of our own finitude. Allegorical, as well as dystopian, it deals with resignation to, as well as acceptance of, freedom within limitation. Its humor is that of the pathos of human existence, driven by power and its vanities. The People and Uncollected Stories, composed in the main of an unfinished novel about a Jew living with an Indian tribe, was published in 1989. Conversations with Bernard Malamud, edited by Lawrence Lasher appeared in 1991. Malamud's The Complete Stories edited by Robert Giroux was published in 1997.

Malamud's contribution to American-Jewish literature remains large. (He appears as the novelist E.L. Lonoff in Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, 1979). Yet his achievement also seals an epoch in which the Jew was portrayed as helpless, and forced to justify his existence. Suffering, in much of Malamud's work, marked American-Jewish life. It also was the human condition. Malamud's Jewish characters are often victimized by their sense of self. They are also often diminished by their environment, by capitalism, and by political and social malevolence. His protagonists escape a constricting life at the cost of a deeper remorse: the abandonment of their authentic selves.

A new American-Jewish literary type, one willfully accepting conditions of success and ease in America, gains its strength against the background and achievement of Malamud's art.

add. bibliography:

E. Abramson, Bernard Malamud Revisited (1993); E. Avery, Rebels and Victims: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Bernard Malamud (1979); H. Bloom (ed.), Bernard Malamud (1986.)

[Sholom Jacob Kahn /

Lewis Fried (2nd ed.)]

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Malamud, Bernard

MALAMUD, Bernard

Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 26 April 1914. Education: Erasmus Hall High School, New York; City College of New York, 1932-36, B.A. 1936; Columbia University, New York, 1937-38, M.A. 1942. Family: Married Ann de Chiara in 1945; one son and one daughter. Career: Teacher, New York high schools, 1940-49; instructor and associate professor of English, Oregon State University, Corvallis, 1949-61. Member, division of languages and literature, Bennington College, Vermont, 1961-86. Visiting lecturer, Harvard University, 1966-68. President, PEN American Center, 1979-81. Awards: Rosenthal award and Daroff award, both in 1958; Ford fellowship, 1959, 1960; National Book award, 1959, 1967; Pulitzer prize, 1967; O. Henry award, 1969, 1973; Jewish Heritage award, 1977; Vermont Council on the Arts award, 1979; Brandeis University creative arts award, 1981; Bobst award and American Academy gold medal, both in 1983; Mondello prize (Italy), 1985. Member: American Academy, 1964; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967. Died: 18 March 1986.

Publication

Collection

The Complete Stories. 1997.

Novels

The Natural. 1952.

The Assistant. 1957.

A New Life. 1961.

The Fixer. 1966.

Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition. 1969.

The Tenants. 1971.

Dubin's Lives. 1979.

God's Grace. 1982.

Short Stories

The Magic Barrel. 1958.

Idiots First. 1963.

Rembrandt's Hat. 1973.

Two Fables. 1978.

The Stories. 1983.

The People, and Uncollected Short Stories, edited by Robert Giroux. 1990.

Other

A Malamud Reader. 1967.

Conversations with Malamud, edited by Lawrence Lasher. 1991.

Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work. 1996.

*

Film Adaptations:

The Fixer, 1968; The Angel Levine, 1970, from the short story; The Natural, 1984.

Bibliography:

Malamud: An Annotated Checklist, 1969, and Malamud: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1991, both by Rita N. Kosofsky; Malamud: A Reference Guide by Joel Salzburg, 1985.

Critical Studies:

Bernard Malamud by Sidney Richman, 1967; Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth: A Critical Essay by Glenn Meeter, 1968; Bernard Malamud and the Critics, 1970, and Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1975, both edited by Leslie A. and Joyce W. Field; Art and Idea in the Novels of Bernard Malamud by Robert Ducharme, 1974; The Fiction of Bernard Malamud, edited by Richard Astro and Jackson J. Benson, 1977; Rebels and Victims: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Bernard Malamud, 1979, and The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud, 2001, both by Evelyn Gross Avery; Bernard Malamud by Sheldon J. Hershinow, 1980; The Good Man's Dilemma: Social Criticism in the Fiction of Bernard Malamud by Iska Alter, 1981; Theme of Compassion in the Novels of Bernard Malamud by M. Rajagopalachari, 1988; Bernard Malamud: A Study of the Short Fiction by Robert Solotaroff, 1989; Bernard Malamud Revisited by Edward A. Abramson, 1993; The Short Stories of Bernard Malamud: In Search of Jewish Post-Immigrant Identity by Begoña Sío-Casteñeira, 1998.

* * *

Bernard Malamud is not the sort of writer one thinks of as deeply interested in the Holocaust. His first novel, The Natural, was a baseball story without a Jew in it. But the Holocaust nonetheless makes its appearance in a number of ways in his fiction, especially in several of his short stories, such as "The Last Mohican" and "The Lady of the Lake," that deal with Holocaust survivors in Italy. And if we connect a virulent anti-Semitism with the Holocaust, which was its major cause, then in his novels, pre-eminently The Fixer, which is a fictionalized version of the infamous Bailiss case in nineteenth-century Russia, the Holocaust is also, if indirectly, present.

In these ways Malamud is similar to Isaac Bashevis Singer , who escaped the Holocaust by emigrating from Poland well before the Nazi invasion but whose writing is filled with people and events that predate and thereby recall the world the Holocaust destroyed. Not only in "The German Refugee" but also in other stories, as in "The First Seven Years" (in The Magic Barrel ), Malamud portrays people like Singer's, who speak English with Yiddish or German accents and are themselves recent immigrants to the United States. These first-generation Americans, as with Singer's prewar characters, remind us, too, of the world that was lost. Their care-worn visages and deep sadness also resemble the characteristics of Holocaust survivors.

In several of his stories Malamud uses the Holocaust subtly to suggest the theme of responsibility and human compassion. Occasionally it is invoked directly, as in "The Last Mohican," when Fidelman comes across a cemetery in Rome where one of the tombstones bears an inscription mourning the death of a person's father in Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis. Or in "The Lady of the Lake," where it is not until the end that we discover that the young woman Freeman née Levin loves and wishes to marry is a Holocaust survivor. But more often it is submerged, as in "The Loan," where loaves of bread burn in the oven and appear as "charred corpses," victims in their way of a failure of compassion.

In the last novel published before his death, God's Grace, Malamud depicts the aftermath of a holocaust more terrible and devastating than that of World War II but occasioned by the same basic hatreds and viciousness that caused the earlier one. A nuclear war destroys all of humankind except for Calvin Cohen, a Jewish-American scientist who escapes destruction because he is at the bottom of the sea engaged in research. When he surfaces and sees what has happened, he tries to create an Edenic life on an island, teaching a group of chimpanzees how to speak and to behave in a humane manner. A humanist and an optimist, he works hard and lovingly with his little band to instill in them a kind of civility as well as filial devotion. But the basic drives of envy and jealousy that infect some of them are too strong for the Judeo-Christian commandments Cohen tries to get them to follow, and just as at the end of The Tenants, an earlier novel dealing with the difficulties of African-American and Jewish-American rapprochement, the novel ends in slaughter.

Malamud's moralizing could hardly be clearer. As another writer once proclaimed, "We must love one another, or die." Without human compassion and understanding we are all doomed.

—Jay L. Halio

See the essays on "The German Refugee,""The Lady of the Lake," and "The Last Mohican."

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Malamud, Bernard

MALAMUD, Bernard

Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 26 April 1914. Education: Erasmus Hall High School, New York; City College of New York, 1932-36, B.A. 1936; Columbia University, New York, 1937-38, M.A. 1942. Family: Married Ann de Chiara in 1945; one son and one daughter. Career: Teacher, New York high schools, evenings 1940-49; instructor to associate professor of English, Oregon State University, Corvallis, 1949-61; member of the division of languages and literature, Bennington College, Vermont, 1961-86; visiting lecturer, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966-68. President, PEN American Center, 1979-81. Awards: Rosenthal award, 1958; Daroff Memorial award, 1958; Ford fellowship, 1959, 1960; National Book award, 1959, 1967; Pulitzer prize, 1967; O. Henry award, 1969, 1973; Jewish Heritage award, 1977; Vermont Council on the Arts award, 1979; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1981; American Academy gold medal, 1983; Bobst award, 1983; Mondello prize (Italy), 1985. Member: American Academy, 1964; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967. Died: 18 March 1986.

Publications

Collections

The Complete Stories. 1997.

Short Stories

The Magic Barrel. 1958.

Idiots First. 1963.

Rembrandt's Hat. 1973.

Two Fables. 1978.

The Stories. 1983.

The People, and Uncollected Short Stories, edited by RobertGiroux. 1990.

Novels

The Natural. 1952.

The Assistant. 1957.

A New Life. 1961.

The Fixer. 1966.

Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition. 1969.

The Tenants. 1971.

Dubin's Lives. 1979.

God's Grace. 1982.

Other

A Malamud Reader. 1967.

Conversations with Malamud, edited by Lawrence Lasher. 1991.

Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work. 1996.

*

Bibliography:

Malamud: An Annotated Checklist, 1969, and Malamud: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1991, both by Rita N. Kosofsky; Malamud: A Reference Guide by Joel Salzburg, 1985.

Critical Studies:

Malamud by Sidney Richman, 1967; Malamud and Philip Roth: A Critical Essay by Glenn Meeter, 1968; Malamud and the Critics, 1970, and Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1975, both edited by Leslie A. and Joyce W. Field; Art and Idea in the Novels of Malamud by Robert Ducharme, 1974; Malamud and the Trial by Love by Sandy Cohen, 1974; The Fiction of Malamud edited by Richard Astro and Jackson J. Benson, 1977 (includes bibliography); Rebels and Victims: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Malamud by Evelyn Gross Avery, 1979; Malamud by Sheldon J. Hershinow, 1980; The Good Man's Dilemma: Social Criticism in the Fiction of Malamud by Iska Alter, 1981; Understanding Malamud by Jeffrey Helterman, 1985; Theme of Compassion in the Novels of Malamud by M. Rajagopalachari, 1988; Malamud: A Study of the Short Fiction by Robert Solotaroff, 1989; Bernard Malamud Revisited by Edward A. Abramson, 1993; The Short Stories of Bernard Malamud: In Search of Jewish Post-Immigrant Identity by Begoña Sío-Casteñeira, 1998.

* * *

Most of Bernard Malamud's short stories are love stories, though love stories of an unusual kind. They are not the typical Romeo and Juliet tales in which boy meets girl. They deal with different kinds of love—between older men and women or between men and men. Most often they are about agape rather than eros or about the charity humans should show one another. They are typically very moving and often very sad.

Good examples of Malamud's kind of love story are "The Loan" (from his first collection of stories, The Magic Barrel) and "The Death of Me" (from his second collection, Idiots First). In "The Loan" Kobotsky visits, after a lapse of 15 years, his erstwhile friend Lieb the baker to borrow two hundred dollars for a gravestone for his dead wife. The hiatus in their friendship, occasioned by an earlier loan of a hundred dollars, is immediately brushed aside as the two old-timers become reunited. But Lieb has since remarried, and Bessie, his second wife, who handles their money, refuses the loan, however moved she is by Kobotsky's plight. Like many of Malamud's characters, all three have suffered terribly, and charity must be severely rationed.

In "The Death of Me" Marcus, a clothier, tries to mediate between two excellent workers in his shop, Emilio Vizo, the tailor, and Josip Bruzak, the presser, who (for reasons Marcus cannot plumb) develop a fierce hatred for each other. Though the tailor and the presser have both respect and affection for old Marcus and listen attentively to his admonitions and pleas, as soon as he steps aside their feud breaks out anew. The charity Marcus feels for each of them cannot be extended from one to the other, however, leaving Marcus eventually broken and finally dead.

More like a traditional love story, though still quite different, is "The First Seven Years" (from The Magic Barrel). Feld the shoemaker has an only child, 19-year-old Miriam, who he hopes will find a better life than the poor one he ekes out in his shop, where he is assisted by Sobel, a refugee. Feld tries to interest Miriam in Max, a college boy studying accounting. He is unaware that Sobel and Miriam already have a relationship based mostly on shared reading of the great literature of the world. When Sobel discovers Feld's plans to match Miriam with Max, he leaves in a huff, and only with difficulty does Feld persuade him to return. In the process he learns of Sobel's devotion to Miriam, extracting a promise that the assistant will wait another two years before asking Miriam to marry him.

Though simply told in sparse language—dialogue is often limited to a few heavily weighted words—Malamud's stories frequently suggest wider dimensions. Not only the title but the substance of "The First Seven Years" recalls Jacob's love for Rachel and his willingness to serve her father for her sake. "Take Pity" similarly suggests other realms, those of Dante's Inferno. Rosen, a former coffee salesman, tells his story to Davidov the census-taker in a cell-like room with the window shade firmly drawn. Having fallen in love with Eva, Rosen valiantly tried to help her and her family, both before and after Alex Kalish, her husband, a Polish refugee, died. But Eva stubbornly refused his help, even as the little shop her husband started and she takes over steadily failed to earn them a living. In desperation Rosen, a single man, put his head in the oven, leaving all his possessions and his life insurance to Eva and her two little girls. At this point Davidov, "before Rosen could cry no, idly raised the window shade." There stood Eva, staring at Rosen with "haunted, beseeching eyes." But Rosen, damned for his sins, curses her now and rams down the shade, imprisoned by his bitterness as earlier he was imprisoned by his obsession.

Occasionally Malamud is less subtle but still effective in the use of fantasy in his otherwise realistic fiction. For example, in "The Jewbird" (from The Magic Barrel) a poor, skinny crow flies into the Cohens' apartment window in the Bronx, begging for a piece of herring and a crust of bread. That the bird talks, in Yiddish, evokes only a mild surprise from Cohen, who takes an immediate dislike to the bird, though his wife and son are more charitable. Cohen is convinced that the bird is nothing but a schnorrer, despite the fact that over the next few months Schwartz, as the Jewbird calls himself, helps little Maurie with his homework so that the boy gets the knack of studying and does much better in school. Exasperated by the Jewbird's chutzpah, as he sees it, Cohen harasses and finally murders the bird—an example, perhaps, of Jewish anti-Semitism and certainly a dismal failure of human charity.

"Angel Levine" (from The Magic Barrel), the title story in Idiots First, and "Talking Horse" (from Rembrandt's Hat) also mingle fantasy and fiction. In these stories and others Malamud shows his kinship with the tradition of Jewish folklore and folktales as seen in the fiction of Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, though his style is peculiarly his own. The austerity, even bleakness, of his characters is such that one would never mistake a Malamud story for anyone else's. Malamud did not limit himself to Jewish characters and events, as "The Bill" (from The Magic Barrel) and "Life Is Better Than Death" (from Idiots First) illustrate. But whether he deals with Jewish immigrants or Italians in Rome, Malamud has an unfailing ear for the rhythms and accents of their speech as well as a sympathetic understanding of the difficulties and hardships they endure. If his most characteristic theme is that of human suffering brought on by failed communication and failed charity, his typical response to such situations is an unsentimental insistence that the realities of human existence must be faced.

—Jay L. Halio

See the essays on "The Jewbird" and "The Magic Barrel."

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