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Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991), Polish-American author, was admired for his re-creation of the forgotten world of provincial 19th-century Poland and his depiction of a timeless Jewish ghetto existence.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born on July 14, 1904, in Radzymin, Poland. In his family's rabbinic tradition, he was groomed for Hasidism, attending a Warsaw seminary. However, he decided on a writing career. After completing his seminary studies, he worked as a journalist for the Yiddish press in various parts of Poland. Emigrating to the United States in 1935, Singer became a reporter for the Daily Forward in New York City, America's largest Yiddish newspaper. Although he personally adapted to his new habitat, his early literary efforts display nostalgia for the "old country"; the subjects seem part of a distant past remembered from vivid tales of Polish storytellers.

Singer's first novel, The Family Moskat (1950), was likened by critics to the narratives of Ivan Turgenev and Honoré de Balzac. Based on Singer's own family, the novel succeeds in translating the almost metaphysical existence of an orthodox Jewish home into a universal reality. Two short stories, "Satan in Goray" and "The Dybbuk and the Golem" (1955), treat the provincialism, superstition, and naiveté of eastern European peasants. A collection of short narratives, Gimpel, the Fool, and Other Stories (1957), reworked earlier themes but skillfully avoided repetition. Beneath the grotesque and folk elements, Singer includes in "Gimpel" a psychological-theological moral conflict in which an uncomplicated man finds his idyllic existence threatened by black magic and sorcery.

Modern man is the subject of Singer's novel The Magician of Lublin (1960), which portrays a protagonist who dares to violate the sanctity of tradition. The novel lacks the superb intricacy of The Family Moskat and the haunting suspense of "Gimpel." Still grappling with the modern experience, Singer sets the 11 short pieces of The Spinoza of Market Street (1961) in a post-World War II Polish ghetto. Having departed from his quaintly provincial world into contemporary urban madness, Singer revealed the stylistic limitations of his simple, flowing prose range. "I've always stayed in my same nook, my same corner," Singer reflected in retrospect. "If a writer ventures out of his corner he is nothing."

The Slave (1962), an epic of 17th-century Poland, recounts the brutal world of Russian Cossacks through the eyes of an enslaved, sensitive, pious Jew; yet somehow the work appeals to modern sensibilities. Once again Singer's flawless prose recaptures a timeless folk element. When a collection of vignettes filled with memories of Singer's childhood in the Warsaw ghetto, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969), won the National Book Award for children's literature, Singer remarked that he wrote for young people because "they still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, and other such obsolete stuff." A Friend of Kafka, a collection of short fiction, appeared in 1970.

Recipient of numerous other literary awards, Singer remained an active journalist and critic for the Daily Forward throughout. He always wrote in Yiddish and then worked closely with his English translators because of the difficulty in finding equivalents for his subtle verbal nuances. His "simple" and "unchanging" fictions paradoxically have gained in popularity with a new generation possessing a taste for an obscure and sometimes grotesque past which seems more tangible than a nebulous future, for his stories capture the essence of the human condition.

Singer received numerous awards thoughout the latter portion of his life. Some of the more noted include Nobel Prize in literature (1978) and the Gold Medal for Fiction (1989). Singer continued to publish new material until his death in 1991.

Further Reading

Full-length studies of Singer include Irving H. Buchen, Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Eternal Past (1968), a critical appraisal of the various themes in Singer's work, and Ben Siegel, Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969). Marcia Allentuck, The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969), contains appraisals by 12 scholars, and Irving Malin, ed., Critical Views of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969), is particularly useful for explications of obscure elements in Singer's fiction. □

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

Isaac Bashevis Singer (bäshĕv´Ĭs), 1904–91, American novelist and short-story writer in the Yiddish language, younger brother of I. J. Singer, b. Leoncin, Poland (then in Russia). The son of a provincial Hasidic rabbi (see Hasidism), he moved to Warsaw in the early 1920s and became associated with the city's Yiddish literati. He emigrated to the United States in 1935 and worked in New York City as a journalist on the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward, which also published much of his early fiction. In 1943 he became an American citizen. Singer's American career was launched a decade later when his story "Gimpel the Fool" was discovered by Irving Howe, translated by Saul Bellow, and published in the Partisan Review.

Singer's work, often frankly sexual, draws heavily on Jewish folklore, religion, and mysticism and frequently deals with shtetl life in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Many of his later works treat the loneliness of old age and the sense of alienation produced in Jews by the dissolution of values through assimilation with the Gentile world. His novels include Satan in Goray (1933, tr. 1955), The Family Moskat (1945, tr. 1950), The Slave (tr. 1962), The Manor (tr. 1967), Enemies (tr. 1972), Shosha (tr. 1978), The Penitent (tr. 1983), Scum (tr. 1991), and the posthumously published Shadows on the Hudson (tr. 1997).

Singer is also highly regarded for his hundreds of vivid, imaginative, perceptive, and witty short stories. Collections include Gimpel the Fool (tr. 1961), The Spinoza of Market Street (tr. 1961), Old Love (tr. 1979), and The Death of Methuselah (tr. 1985). In 2004 his Collected Stories, in English translation, were published in three volumes. Singer also wrote books for children and several plays, notably The Mirror (tr. 1973). Though he wrote in Yiddish, he was fluent in English and closely supervised the English translations of his works. In 1978 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Yiddish-language author to be so honored.

See his autobiographical In My Father's Court (1966); his memoirs, A Little Boy in Search of God (1976), A Young Man in Search of Love (1978), Lost in America (1979), and Love and Exile (1984); biographies by P. Kresh (1979), C. Sinclair (1983), J. Hadda (1997), and F. Noiville (2006); I. Stavans, ed., Isaac Bashevis Singer: An Album (2004); studies by E. Alexander (1980), D. N. Miller (1985), and G. Farrell and B. Farrell, ed. (1996).

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1904–91) US novelist and short story writer, b. Poland. His novels of Jewish life, written in Yiddish, include The Family Moskat (1950), The Magician of Lublin (1960), The Slave (1962), Shosha (1978) and The Penitent (1983). He was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for literature. Singer's Collected Stories was published in 1982.

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Born: July 14, 1904
Radzymin, Poland
Died: July 24, 1991
Miami, Florida

Polish-born American author

I saac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-American author, was admired for his recreation of the forgotten world of nineteenth-century Poland and his depiction of a timeless Jewish ghetto (a city neighborhood where a minority group lives).

Early life

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born on July 14, 1904, in Radzymin, Poland. His family moved to Warsaw, Poland, when he was four years old. Both of his grandfathers were rabbis (Jewish spiritual leaders), and Singer was also groomed for Hasidism, a strict spiritual practice, and attended a seminary (a school to train rabbis). However, he decided on a writing career. His older brother, Israel Joseph, was a well-known Yiddish (a language spoken by Jewish people in eastern Europe) writer. Growing up, Singer was impressed by the Jewish folk tales told by his parents. These tales set the groundwork for some of Singer's fictional characters and religious faith.

After Singer completed his seminary studies, he worked as a journalist for the Yiddish press in various parts of Poland. Moving to the United States in 1935, Singer became a reporter for the Daily Forward in New York City, America's largest Yiddish newspaper. Although he personally adapted to his new habitat, his early literary efforts display an appreciation for the "old country." The subjects seem part of a distant past remembered from vivid tales of Polish storytellers.

First works

Singer's first novel, The Family Moskat (1950), was likened by critics to the narratives of the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (18181883) and the French writer Honoré de Balzac (17991850). Based on Singer's own family, the novel succeeds in translating the reality of an orthodox (traditional) Jewish home into a universal reality. Two short stories, "Satan in Goray" and "The Dybbuk and the Golem" (1955), treat the superstition and foolishness of eastern European peasants (people from the lower, working class). A collection of short narratives, Gimpel, the Fool, and Other Stories (1957), reworked earlier themes but skillfully avoided repetition. Beneath the grotesque and folk elements, Singer included in "Gimpel" a psychological-theo-logical (religious) moral conflict in which an uncomplicated man finds his existence threatened by black magic and sorcery (powers from evil spirits).

Modern man is the subject of Singer's novel The Magician of Lublin (1960), which portrays a protagonist (main character) who dares to violate the holiness of tradition. The novel lacks the superb intricacy of The Family Moskat and the haunting suspense of "Gimpel." Still grappling with the modern experience in his next work, Singer set the eleven short pieces of The Spinoza of Market Street (1961) in a ghetto after World War II (193945; a war in which the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union fought against Germany, Japan, and Italy). Having departed from his quaintly unsophisticated world into contemporary urban madness, Singer revealed the stylistic limitations of his simple, flowing writings. "I've always stayed in my same nook, my same corner," Singer once reflected. "If a writer ventures out of his corner he is nothing."

Later work

Singer's The Slave (1962), an epic about seventeenth-century Poland, recounts the brutal world of Russian Cossacks (peasant soldiers in the Ukraine) through the eyes of an enslaved, sensitive Jew; yet somehow the work appeals to modern sensibilities. Once again Singer's flawless writing recaptures a timeless folk element. When a collection of scenes filled with memories of Singer's childhood in the Warsaw ghetto (an extremely poor neighborhood), A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969), won the National Book Award for children's literature, Singer remarked that he wrote for young people because "they still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, and other such obsolete stuff." A Friend of Kafka, a collection of short fiction, appeared in 1970.

Recipient of numerous other literary awards, Singer remained an active journalist and critic for the Daily Forward. He always wrote in Yiddish and then worked closely with his English translators (people who change text from one language to another) because of the difficulty in finding equivalents for his subtle writings. His "simple" and "unchanging" fictions have gained in popularity with a new generation possessing a taste for an obscure and sometimes grotesque past which seems more real than an unclear future, for his stories capture the essence of the human condition.

Singer received numerous awards throughout the latter portion of his life. Some of the more noted include Nobel Prize in literature (1978) and the Gold Medal for Fiction (1989). Singer continued to publish new material until his death in 1991.

For More Information

Farrell, Grace, ed. Critical Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.

Goran, Lester. The Bright Streets of Surfside: The Memoir of a Friendship with Isaac Bashevis Singer. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1994.

Hadda, Janet. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Siegel, Ben. Isaac Bashevis Singer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father's Court. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.

Zamir, Israel. Journey to My Father, Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: Arcade, 1995.

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

SINGER, ISAAC BASHEVIS

SINGER, ISAAC BASHEVIS (1904–1991), Yiddish novelist, critic, and journalist. The younger brother of the novelists Ester Kraytman and I.J. *Singer, Isaac was born into a rabbinical family in Leoncin, Poland. He grew up in Warsaw, where he made his career until his emigration to America in 1935, though in 1917 he left the city with his mother and younger brother and lived for a few years in his mother's hometown of Bilgoraj, where his grandfather was rabbi. His education was traditional. He taught himself German and Polish. In Warsaw his home was on the poor and teeming Krochmalna Street, where his father held a bet din. The old-world tradition and way of life and his father's rich library inspired in him an interest in philosophy in general and in the Kabbalah in particular. His brother's example as a secular Yiddish writer was also of the greatest importance to Singer's artistic and moral development.

Singer's Pseudonyms

Prolific and versatile, Singer's multiple talents group themselves behind his various pseudonyms. He made his debut in the literary world with "Oyf der Elter" (in Literarishe Bleter, no. 60, 1925) which he signed "Tse" (צע). In the same journal that year (no. 80), his story "Vayber" was published under the pseudonym "Isaac Bashevis" (a derivative of his mother's first name, Bas-Sheva (Yid. for Bath-Sheba)), which he used only for his serious literary creations. Its adoption was prompted by the desire to avoid confusion with his famous brother, Israel Joshua Singer. For his more or less serious journalism Bashevis adopted the name Y. Varshavski, and for his feuilletons and lighter pieces, that of D. Segal. However, his pseudonyms are not inflexible: with shaping and reordering, Varshavski's memoirs became Singer's Mayn Tatn's Beys-Din Shtub.

Imagistic Portrayals of Inner Forces

Singer was recognized early in his literary career. His first major fictional work, Sotn in Goray (1935; Satan in Goray, 1955), had been preceded by short stories in such respected journals as Varshever Shriftn (1926–27) and the Warsaw Globus (1932–34), where Sotn in Goray and its antecedent "Der Yid fun Bovl" first appeared. The kabbalist protagonist of the latter, after life-long traffic with the occult, is finally claimed by the satanic host, despite his conscious will to resist. Here we see the implacable workings of dark inner forces which Singer projects in images derived from folklore. The typical Singer hero is virtually helpless before his passion: he is "possessed." The town of Goray in Sotn in Goray is "possessed" by the false messianism which in 17th-century Poland wrought havoc on Jewish life. "Let none attempt to force the Lord" is the moral of this parable for all times. This "anti-Prometheanism" (a term used by Shlomo *Bickel in his criticism on Bashevis) is a dominant note in Singer's work.

U.S. Publications in English Translation

In the United States, Singer's stories and serialized novels became a regular feature of the New York Yiddish daily Forward, and in the 1950s his stories began to appear in translation in serious magazines. His first Forward serial, Di Familye Mushkat (1950; The Family Moskat, 1950), is a realistic epical novel of pre-World War ii Warsaw. Satan in Goray initiated the U.S. acclaim of Singer as the artist of the grotesque and demoniac who generated more interest than the realistic chronicler of the more recent Polish Jewish past. Of the volumes that Bashevis published in English from 1955, only three appeared in book form in Yiddish; two of these, five to six years after their English translation. Singer was thus in the curious position of writing for two very distinct audiences: the sophisticated public that read him in translation in Commentary and in the New Yorker, and the Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish readership, less sophisticated, but with wider Jewish knowledge. Singer declared that "nothing can spoil a writer more than writing for the translator" (Commentary, vol. 36, no. 5, 1963); yet the suspicion that he himself did persists.

Motifs and Styles of His Works

Singer was above all a marvelous and interesting storyteller, no matter where he might be leading his expectant, and often puzzled, reader. If his demons, imps, and spirits are regarded as a shorthand ("a kind of spiritual stenography" Singer called it) for complex human behavior, then one need not be distressed by the author's professed belief in their substantive reality. Singer's fictional writings include a variety of narrators and protagonists living on the margins of Jewish society, such as the mentally disturbed, criminals, prostitutes, and various other extraordinary individuals (e.g., the Magican of Lublin, 1960). Many of his fictional writings tend to center around the sexual and the sacred, especially their interrelationship: "In my stories it is just one step from the study house to sexuality and back again. Both phases of human existence have continued to interest me" (In My Father's Court, p. 175). Though eroticism has been present in Yiddish literature for over half a century, many Yiddish readers, preferring a "balanced view" of Jewish life and of man in general, find the sexual motif in Singer overworked and exaggerated.

Singer's serious fiction falls into three groups: his realistic novels, his short romances or novellas, and his short stories. To these may be added his memoirs (like Mayn Tatn's Beys-Din Shtub, 1950; In My Father's Court, 1966, a work which is both art and documentary; Gloybn un Tsveyfl, 1974, 1976, 1978; A Little Boy in Search of God, 1976; A Young Man in Search of Love, 1978; Lost in America, 1981; and others which only appeared in the Forverts), and also his autobiographical novels (like Der Sertificat, 1967; The Certificate, 1992; Neshome Ekspeditsyes, 1974; Shosha, 1978: and others). Singer is at home in a variety of styles, modes, and subjects; he moves freely from the medieval to the contemporary, from the naturalistic to the fantastic, from psychological illumination to parapsychological mystification. His typical pose is one of ironic detachment.

Realistic Novels

The Manor (1967; written in 1953–55), first serialized in the Forward under the title Der Hoyf of which it constitutes part 1, is a realistic family chronicle of late 19th-century Polish Jewish life. Similar in style to The Family Moskat, it suffers from the same loose structure but is largely redeemed by the same vividness. A continuation was called The Estate (1970).

Set in 19th-century Poland, The Magician of Lublin (1960) has for its protagonist a Jewish magician-acrobat Don Juan whose Faustian striving eventually leads to penitential self-incarceration. The Slave (1962; Yid., Der Knekht, 1967), a universalistic parable set in 17th-century Poland after the *Chmielnicki massacres, portrays an enslaved Jew who falls in love with the daughter of his peasant master; the gulf between them is bridged by the unifying and transcendent power of love. The miracle at the end of The Slave disturbs readers who look amiss at interference, whether authorial or supernatural.

Shadows on the Hudson (1998) is another realistic novel which introduces a large variety of New York Jews from different backgrounds and describes the complex interactions between them.

Shorter Fictional Works

It is in the shorter forms of fiction that Singer excels, and some of his stories (e.g., "Gimpel the Fool") are among the finest in any language. Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (1957; Yid., Gimpl Tam un Andere Dertseylungen, 1963), The Spinoza ofMarket Street (1961), and Short Friday (1964) are quite varied collections of short stories written over a period of many years. Their typical setting is the shtetl, often visited by Satan's emissaries. The demoniac tales, rich in grotesquerie and often narrated by devils and imps, range from studies in pathology to parables of the arbitrariness of the evil in life. Typically, it is through the weakness of the flesh that Satan conquers.

Free of demons and asserting the freedom to behave irrationally, The Spinoza of Market Street concerns an ineffectual philosopher who achieves salvation through the flesh. The irrational expresses itself in a context of "normalcy," where soup and sympathy come to acquire magical properties. "Gimpel the Fool" is in the great divine-fool tradition and recalls *Peretz's "Bontshe Shvayg." Its theme is the ambiguous nature of sublunary truth and reality: "No doubt," says Gimpel, "the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the true world…. Whatever may be there, it will be real, without complication, without ridicule, without deception. God be praised: there even Gimpel cannot be deceived."

Singer's Place in Yiddish and World Literature

The leading exponent of Yiddish imaginative prose, Singer is also an important figure in contemporary world literature. Enjoying a somewhat ambiguous place among Yiddish writers, he is nonetheless firmly rooted in Jewish tradition. Like Yiddish literature itself, Singer's art is a unique amalgam of the indigenous and the naturalized, of specifically Jewish and general world culture. In recognition of his literary work he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978, the first awarded for Yiddish literature.

bibliography:

I.H. Buchen, I.B. Singer and the Eternal Past (1968); M. Allentuck (ed.), The Achievements of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969); Fixler, in: Kenyon Review (Spring 1964), 371–86; I. Howe, in: Commentary, 30 (1960), 350–3; 36 (1963), 364–72; Dan Jacobson, ibid., 39 (1966), 48–52; I.B. Singer, Selected Stories (1966), v–xxiv; S.E. Hyman, in: The New Leader (July 28, 1962); Eisenberg, in: Judaism, 11 (1962), 345–56; S. Bickel, Shrayber fun Mayn Dor, 1 (1958), 358–65; Gross-Zimmermann, in: Goldene Keyt, 60 (1967), 190–4; Y.Y. Trunk, Di Yidishe Proze in Poyln (1949), 136–49. add. bibliography: D.N. Miller, Bibliography of Isaac Bashevis Singer 19241949 (1983); C. Shmeruk, "Polish-Jewish Relations in the Historical Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer," in: The Polish Review, 32 (1978), 401–13; idem, "The Perils of Translation: Isaac Bashevis Singer in English and Hebrew," in: E. Mendelsohn (ed.), Literary StrategiesJewish Texts and Contexts (1996), 228–33; idem, "Between Autobiography and Fiction," Introduction to Isaac Bashevis Singer, My Father's Court (1996), v–xvii; J. Hadda, Isaac Bashevis SingerA Life (1997); S.L. Wolitz (ed.), The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer (2001); H. Denman (ed.), Isaac Bashevis Singer: His Work and His World (2002).

[Leonard Prager /

Nathan Cohen (2nd ed.)]

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

Singer, Isaac Bashevis

(b. 21 November 1904 in Leon-cin, Poland; d. 24 July 1991 in Surfside, Florida), Nobel Prize winner in literature (1978) for his Yiddish novels, short stories, and memoirs that have been translated into English and fifteen other languages, and a writer for the American Yiddish newspaper Der Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward).

Singer was also known by the names Yitzchok Bashevis for his works in Yiddish; Y. Varshovsky, a transliteration of a Yiddish name that means “the man from Warsaw” and D. Segal for his nonfiction in the Jewish Daily Forward (the Forward). He was the fifth of six children, of whom only four survived childhood. His father, Pinchos Menachem Singer, was a rabbi, and his mother, Basheve Zylberman, the daughter of the rabbi of Biigoraj, was a homemaker who was literate in Yiddish. His sister Hinde Esther Kreit-man, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, and his brother Israel Joshua, also a Yiddish author, played prominent roles in his life and served as models for a number of fictional characters. His father died in 1929. His younger brother, Moishe, the only son to remain an Orthodox Jew, and his mother both died in the Holocaust.

Singer did not have a formal secular education. He was taught the Gemara, Jewish law, by his father and the Bible by his mother, who was learned in Jewish studies. He went to cheder, the orthodox religious elementary school, and in 1921 he attended the Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary in Warsaw but did not complete his studies. He was self-taught in German and Polish as well as in philosophy. He ceased to be an observant Jew according to law although he maintained a belief in God. His own ethic he described as “one of protest,” whereby “the true protester expresses his protest by avoiding doing evil to the best of his ability.”

Singer’s more than ten novels for adults, collections of short stories, four memoirs, and even his children’s books are set most frequently in the small villages of eastern Europe that he knew as a child. The family moved in 1907 from Leoncin to Radzymin, where his father was head of a yeshiva. In 1908 they left for Warsaw, where even though not officially licensed, his father was regarded as the rabbi of Krochmalna Street, where the family resided at number 10. The cases that most impressed the young Singer are chronicled in what he called a fusion of memoirs and belles lettres, In My Father’s Court (1966), first published in Yiddish as Mayn tain’s bes-din-shtub (1955). The cases the young boy hears are narrated as dramatized stories, and some, such as “Why the Geese Shrieked,” were published in collections of stories.

World War I dispersed the family. Israel hid to avoid conscription; Hinde married a diamond cutter and moved to Antwerp; and Singer left for Bilgoraj with his mother and Moishe to avoid starvation in German-occupied Warsaw. Singer studied the Talmud and Hebrew. He also studied the kabala, whose broad concept he described in Love and Exile (1984) as “everything is God and God is everything.” In this shtetl (rural village) he immersed himself in folklore. After his year at the seminary in 1921 Singer spent a year in Biigoraj teaching Hebrew, and in 1922 he joined his parents and Moishe in Dzikow, an adjoining village.

Singer’s first literary job in 1923 was as a proofreader for Literarische bleter (Literary Pages), for which his brother Israel was coeditor. He also began translating works into Yiddish, most notably Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924) and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1928). Singer was interested in the relationship between mind and disease, central to Mann’s novel, seeking an explanation for his sister’s illness and for his own bouts of depression. Remarque’s work appealed to his own pacifist leanings.

In 1925 Singer wrote his first short story about birth and new beginnings, “Of der elter” (In Old Age), for Literarische bleter under the name of “Tse.” Later that year he published his second story, “Nerot” (Candles), in Ha-yom signed Isaac Bashevis, a matronymic that distinguished him from his brother, a more established Yiddish writer. Other stories were penned between 1926 and 1928, one of which, “Ofn Olem hatoye” (In the World of Chaos), yielded “Two Corpses Go Dancing,” published in Yiddish in 1943 and in English in 1968 in the collection of short stories The Séance and Other Stories. His translation work kept him occupied although not well paid.

In 1932 Singer became coeditor of Globus. This literary magazine printed some of Singer’s short stories and in 1933, at his own expense, serialized his first novel, The Satan in Goray, which countered the tradition of Yiddish writing with its sexuality and satanic possession. Also that year Singer began to write for a Parisian Yiddish paper, Parizer haynt, and for the Forward, for whom his brother Israel, living in the United States as of 1933, was a journalist. The Warsaw PEN Club published Satan in Goray as a book in 1935. Israel arranged for a U.S. visa for his brother, who received a copy of Satan in Goray shortly after his arrival in the United States in May. With his brother’s influence, Singer received an advance from the Forward for a serialized novel, Der sindiker meshickh (Messiah the Sinner), but he developed a writer’s block. The completed novel was not well received.

Despite the failure of this novel, in the 1940s Singer was hired as a staff writer for the Forward and contributed a column, “It’s Worthwhile Knowing.” He married Alma Haimann Wassermann, a German-born Jew with two children, on 14 February 1940 in a civil ceremony in New York City. The couple initially lived in Brooklyn and established their last residence at the large and historic Belnord Apartment House on Broadway and Eighty-sixth Street. (Singer had an illegitimate son by Rochel [Ronye] Shapira in 1930.) In 1943 Singer became a naturalized U.S. citizen, and his efforts to obtain the necessary papers are detailed in Lost in America (1981), initially published separately and then made the last of the three memoirs of Love and Exile. In 1944 Farlag Matones in New York published Satan in Goray and Other Tales in Yiddish. Singer began writing short stories again. In 1944 Israel died of a heart attack. This event depressed Singer. His relationship with his brother had been ambivalent, regarding him as a father and mentor but also as a rival. He had difficulty establishing an independent reputation as a writer because Israel Singer’s novels were well regarded. The only remaining immediate family connection in the United States was Israel’s son Joseph Singer, who translated into English some of Singer’s fiction. “The Spinoza of Market Street” was published first in Yiddish and in 1961 in English in Esquire 1. “Derkurtser fraytik” (Short Friday) was published in Yiddish in 1945 and in English in 1964 in a collection bearing its title. The most widely known short story, “Gimpel Tarn” (Gimpel the Fool, 1957), as well as “The Little Shoemakers” and “The Wife Killer,” were published in Yiddish in 1953 and appeared in later collections translated into English.

The 1950s were particularly important for launching Singer’s career in the English language. The Family Moscai, inspired by his reading of Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1900), began in 1945 as a three-year serialization in the Forward and was aired on WEVD’s Forward Hour. But Alfred A. Knopfs publication of the novel in 1950 introduced Singer to a wider American audience. In 1952 Singer wrote “A Tale of Two Lies” for the Forward, and it appeared in English in 1961. Another novel, The Manor, was serialized in the Forward in 1952. In 1953 the English translation of “Gimpel Tarn” appeared in the May issue of Partisan Review. Following that story’s critical acclaim Singer published his stories in other major American magazines, such as Commentary, New Yorker, Harper’s, and Esquire.

The death in 1954 of Singer’s sister, whom Singer saw only once in England after he married and whom he had refused to help financially, ended another difficult personal relationship. His memoir, Love and Exile, records the ambivalent feelings he had toward her sexually and psychologically. Her hysteria and suicide attempts and his own depressive states and frequent thoughts of suicide had made him fear a family history of insanity. In 1955 Noonday Press published Satan in Goray, and Kval Publishers produced Mayn tatn’s bes-din-shtub (In My Father’s Court). In 1957 the Forward serialized Shadows by the Hudson (published in book form posthumously in 1998), and Noonday published Singer’s first collection of stories in English, Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories.

In 1956 the Folksbeine Theatre in Manhattan dramatized segments from the Yiddish version of In My Father’s Court, the first stage adaptation of one of Singer’s works in Yiddish. In 1958 the Forward serialized A Ship to America, followed by The Magician of Lublin in 1959. Noonday published the latter novel in 1960. Singer revealed that he sometimes changed the text in English because Yiddish was an overstated language and English an understated language. He also said that he did not write his works in Yiddish with an English-speaking audience in mind; that would have affected his writing adversely. His Yiddish was considered elegant and grammatically correct.

Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy’s purchase of Noonday Press in 1960 initiated a long relationship between the publishing house and Singer. In 1961 the Forward serialized The Slave. This novel contains many of the conflicts Singer dramatized in his works, including conflicts between the law and the humane treatment of people, rationalism and superstition, and the Jewish rituals and the gentile world. The supernatural plays an important role, as it does in Satan of Goray and in most of Singer’s short stories. The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories (1961), his second collection in English, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, and in 1962 that house also published The Slave. In 1963 Richard Hall adapted “Gimpel the Fool” as a one-act play for the Mermaid Theater in New York City. The following year Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published Short Friday and Other Stories. In 1966 the Forward serialized Enemies, A Love Story, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published Singer’s first memoir, In My Father’s Court.

Singer began writing children’s literature when he was asked to write Hanukkah stories. In 1966 Harper and Row published Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, inspired by the simple narrative style of the Bible, which Singer said emphasized events and descriptions of characters but did not analyze them within the text. For this collection Singer won his first Newbery Award. In 1967 The Manor was nominated for the National Book Award, and on 25 November 1967 his first publication at the New Yorker, “The Slaughterer,” appeared. That year The Fearsome Inn, a children’s book that won another Newbery Award, was followed by Mazel and Shlimazel; Or, The Mil/{ of a Lioness, the first part of whose title translates as Luck and Bad Luck. In 1968 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux produced The Séance and Other Stories, dedicated to the memory of his sister, and the children’s collection When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories, which won another Newbery Award in 1969. In 1969 The Estate, a sequel to The Manor, and A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw, a children’s version of My Father’s Court, were both published.

The decade of the 1970s began auspiciously for Singer when he won his first National Book Award for A Day of Pleasure. In 1970 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories and Elijah the Slave, a children’s story. An Isaac Bashevis Singer Reader came out in 1971 along with another children’s book, The Topsy-Turvy Emperor of China. Still prolific, Singer wrote Enemies, A Love Story; The Hasidim; and for children The Wicked City in 1972. Two children’s books, A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories, for which he won his second National Book Award in 1974, and The Fools of Chelm and Their History, came out in 1973. The Forward serialized Bal-tshuve (The Penitent) in 1974. He produced Passions and Other Stories in 1975; Nafiali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus for children in 1976; and A Little Boy in Search of God: Mysticism in a Personal Light in 1976.

During this period Singer’s works were adapted for other media. Bruce Davidson’s film of Nightmare and Mrs. Pupfo’s Beard, produced for public television, won first prize in its category in 1972. The Yale Repertory Theater produced an adaptation of The Mirror in 1973, and Teibele and Her Demon opened at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the spring of 1978.

The crowning award of Singer’s career was his receipt of the Nobel Prize for literature on 8 December 1978. In his acceptance speech he said, “The storyteller and poet of our time … must be an entertainer of the spirit … not just a preacher of social and political ideals.” He reiterated his attitude that literature needed to be suspenseful and adventurous. Commenting on a generation that seemed to have lost faith in Providence, he said, “There must be a way for man to attain all possible pleasures, all the powers and knowledge that nature can grant him, and still serve God—a God who speaks in deeds, not in words, and whose vocabulary is the Cosmos.” In Jewish literature, he noted, the poet and the prophet are one and the same. Also that year he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a collection of stories, Old Love, came out. In 1980 Lester Goran arranged a distinguished professorship at the University of Miami for Singer.

The prestigious prize did not inhibit Singer, who published The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanuffiah (1980); a study of the Baal Shem Tov, The Reaches of Heaven (1980); a memoir, Lost in America (1981); The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1982); Isaac Bashevis Singer, Three Complete Novels, including The Slave, Enemies, A Love Story, and Shosha (1982); for children The Golem (1982); and The Penitent (1983). An off-Broadway production of A Play for the Devil was performed in 1984. In 1985 Goran worked with Singer in translating the stories that became The Image and Other Stories. Also that year the Forward serialized Der veg aheim (The Way Home). Singer’s last collection of stories was The Death of Methusaleh and Other Stories, published in 1988. A novel, The King of the Fields, also appeared in 1988. Singer was the recipient of the Gold Medal of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, its highest award, for the film version of Enemies, A Love Story (1990), produced and directed by Paul Mazursky. Singer’s last novel published while he was alive was Scum (1991). In 1998 Shadows by the Hudson, a novel about immigrants living in New York and Florida, was published posthumously. Singer always said that he could only write about what he knew personally, the shtetl life of eastern Europe and the immigrant experience.

Singer was a slim, blond, mostly bald man of pallid complexion, but animated in manner, with a penetrating blue-eyed gaze peering out from black-rimmed spectacles and a heavily Yiddish-accented English. He described himself as shy, skeptical, and a loner; yet in public he was charming, affable, and accessible. A frugal person, he was most often seen, regardless of weather, in a dark blue suit, white cotton dress shirt, tie, and black shoes. Singer died of Alzheimer’s disease on 24 July 1991 in a nursing home in Surfside, Florida, and was buried in Beth El Cemetery, Cedar Park, in Paramus, New Jersey.

The Singer archive is at the University of Texas in Austin. Janet Hadda, Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life (1997), has biographical details. Grace Farrell, ed., Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations (1992), includes a particularly good interview by Cyrena Pondrom. An obituary is in the New York Times (25 July 1991). Roxanne Greenstein interviewed Singer for the videotape A Conversation with Isaac Bashevis Singer (1985), produced and written by Richard Hall and distributed by Ergo Media, Inc.

Barbara L. Gerber

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

SINGER, Isaac Bashevis

Pseudonym: Isaac Warshofsky. Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1935, granted U.S. citizenship, 1943). Born: Icek-Hersz Zynger, Leoncin, 14 July 1904. Education: Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary, Warsaw, 1921-23. Family: Married Alma Haimann in 1940; one son from a previous marriage. Career: Proofreader and translator, Literarishe Bletter, Warsaw, 1923-33; associate editor, Globus, Warsaw, 1933-35. Journalist, Jewish Daily Forward, New York, 1935-91. Founder, Svivah.Awards: Louis Lamed prize, 1950, for The Family Moskat, and 1956, for Satan in Goray; National Institute of Arts and Letters and American Academy award in literature, 1959; Jewish Book Council of America Harry and Ethel Daroff Memorial fiction award, 1963, for The Slave; Foreign book prize (France), 1965; National Council on the Arts grant and New York Times best illustrated book citation, both in 1966, Newbery Honor book award, 1967, for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories; National Endowment for the Arts grant and Playboy magazine award for best fiction, both in 1967; Newbery Honor book award, 1968, for The Fearsome Inn; Bancarella prize, 1968, for Italian translation of The Family Moskat; Newbery Honor book award, 1969, for When Schlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories; Brandeis University creative arts medal for poetry-fiction, 1970; National Book Award for children's literature, 1970, for A Day of Pleasure; Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor award, 1971; Children's Book Council children's book Showcase award, 1972, for Alone in the Wild Forest; National Book Award for fiction, 1974, for A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories; Agnon gold medal, 1975; Nobel prize for literature, 1978; Present Tense magazine Kenneth B. Smilen literary award, 1980, for The Power of Light; Parents' Choice Foundation award, 1983, for The Golem; Handel Medallion, 1986; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters gold medal for fiction, 1989. D.H.L.: Hebrew Union College, 1963. D.Litt.: Texas Christian University, 1972; Colgate University, 1972; Bard College, 1974; Long Island University, 1979. Honorary doctorate: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1973. Member: American Academy, 1965; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1969; Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences; Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences. Died: 24 July 1991.

Publications

Novels

Der Sotn in Gorey. 1935; as Shoten an Goray un anderer Dertailungen, 1943; translated as Satan in Goray, 1955.

Di Familie Mushkat, as Isaac Bashevis (2 vols.). 1950; as The Family Moskat, 1950.

The Magician of Lublin (translation of original Yiddish manuscript). 1960.

The Slave (translation). 1962.

The Manor (translation). 1967.

The Estate (translation). 1969.

Sonim, di Geshichte fun a Liebe. 1966; as Enemies: A Love Story, 1972.

Shosha (translation). 1978.

Reaches of Heaven: A Story of the Baal Shem Tov (translation). 1980.

The Penitent (translation). 1983.

The King of the Fields (translation). 1988.

Scum (translation). 1991.

The Certificate (translation). 1992.

Meshugah (translation). 1994.

Shadows on the Hudson (translation). 1998.

Short Stories

Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (translation of original Yiddish manuscript). 1957.

The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories (translation). 1961.

Short Friday and Other Stories (translation). 1964.

Selected Short Stories, edited by Irving Howe. 1966.

The Séance and Other Stories (translation). 1968.

A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories (translation). 1970.

A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (translation). 1973.

Passions and Other Stories (translation). 1975.

Old Love (translation). 1979.

The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. 1982.

The Image and Other Stories (translation). 1985.

Gifts (English and Yiddish). 1985.

The Death of Methuselah and Other Stories (translation). 1988.

The Safe Deposit and Other Stories about Grandparents, Old Lovers, and Crazy Old Men, edited by Kerry M. Orlitzky. 1989.

Plays

The Mirror (produced 1973).

Shlemiel the First (produced 1974).

Yentl, adaptation, with Leah Napolin, of his own short story

"Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy" (produced 1974). 1977.

Teibele and Her Demon by Eve Friedman (produced Minneapolis, 1978; New York, 1979). 1984.

A Play for the Devil, adaptation of his own short story "The Unseen" (produced New York, 1984).

Other (for children)

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (translation of original Yiddish manuscript). 1966.

Mazel and Shlimazel; or, The Milk of a Lioness (translation). 1967.

The Fearsome Inn (translation). 1967.

When Schlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories (translation). 1968.

A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (translation; autobiographical). 1969.

Elijah the Slave: A Hebrew Legend Retold (translation). 1970.

Joseph and Koza; or, The Sacrifice to the Vistula (translation). 1970.

Alone in the Wild Forest (translation). 1971.

The Topsy-Turvy Emperor of China (translation). 1971.

The Wicked City (translation). 1972.

The Fools of Chelm and Their History (translation). 1973.

Why Noah Chose the Dove (translation). 1974.

A Tale of Three Wishes (translation). 1976.

Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus, and Other Stories (translation). 1976.

The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah (translation). 1980.

The Golem (translation). 1982.

Stories for Children (selections). 1984.

Other

Mayn tatn's bes-din shtub (autobiography). 1956; as In My Father's Court, 1966.

An Isaac Bashevis Singer Reader. 1971.

Love and Exile: A Memoir (autobiographical trilogy). 1984.

A Little Boy in Search of God: Mysticism in a Personal Light. 1976.

A Young Man in Search of Love. 1978.

Lost in America. 1981.

Nobel Lecture (in English and Yiddish). 1979.

Isaac Bashevis Singer on Literature and Life: An Interview, with Paul Rosenblatt and Gene Koppel. 1979.

Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer, with Richard Burgin. 1985.

Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations, edited by Grace Farrell. 1992.

Editor, with Elaine Gottlieb, Prism 2. 1965.

Translator, Pan, by Knut Hamsun. 1928.

Translator, Di Vogler [The Vagabonds], by Knut Hamsun. 1928.

Translator, In Opgrunt fun Tayve [In Passions's Abyss], by Gabriele D'Annunzio. 1929.

Translator, Mete Trap [Mette Trap], by Karin Michäelis. 1929.

Translator, Roman Rolan [Romain Rolland], by Stefan Zweig. 1929.

Translator, Viktorya [Victoria], by Knut Hamsun. 1929.

Translator, Oyfn Mayrev-Front keyn nayes [All Quiet on the Western Front], by Erich Maria Remarque. 1930.

Translator, Der Tsoyberbarg [The Magic Mountain], by Thomas Mann (4 vols.). 1930.

Translator, Der Veg oyf Tsurik [The Road Back], by Erich Maria Remarque. 1931.

Translator, Araber: Folkstimlekhe Geshikhtn [Arabs: Stories of the People], by Moshe Smilansky. 1932.

Translator, Fun Moskve biz Yerusholayim [From Moscow to Jerusalem], by Leon S. Glaser. 1938.

*

Film Adaptations:

The Magician of Lublin, 1978; Yentl, 1983; Enemies: A Love Story, 1989.

Bibliography:

By Bonnie Jean M. Christensen, in Bulletin of Bibliography, 26, January/March, 1969; A Bibliography of Isaac Bashevis Singer 1924-1949 by David Neal Miller, 1983.

Manuscript Collection:

Butler Library, Columbia University, New York.

Critical Studies:

The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer, edited by Marcia Allentuck, 1967; Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Eternal Past by Irving H. Buchen, 1968; Isaac Bashevis Singer by Ben Siegel, 1969; Critical Views of Isaac Bashevis Singer, edited by Irving Malin, 1969, and Isaac Bashevis Singer by Malin, 1972; Isaac Bashevis Singer and His Art by Askel Schiotz, 1970; Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Magician of West 86th Street by Paul Kresh, 1979; Isaac Bashevis Singer by Edward Alexander, 1980; Fear of Fiction: Narrative Strategies in the Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer by David Neal Miller, 1985, and Recovering the Canon: Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer, edited by Miller, 1986; From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer by Grace Farrell, 1987, and Critical Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer, edited by Farrell, 1996; Understanding Isaac Bashevis Singer by Lawrence S. Friedman, 1988; Transgression and Self-Punishment in Isaac Bashevis Singer's Searches by Frances Vargas Gibbons, 1995; Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life by Janet Hadda, 1997; Lost Landscapes: In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland by Agata Tuszyanska, translated by Madeline G. Levine, 1998.

* * *

Arguably the greatest Yiddish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland, on 14 July 1904. When Singer was four years old, his family moved to 10 Krochmalna Street, Warsaw, which serves as the setting for much of Singer's novel Shosha (1978), some of his finest stories, and his childhood reminiscences. To escape the hunger and disease caused by World War I, Singer and his mother fled (in 1917) to Bilgoray, where the youth spent the next four years observing the rural Jewish life that he would re-create in his fiction. Singer claimed that without this experience he never could have written his first novel, Satan in Goray (1935).

In the year that work appeared, Singer immigrated to the United States. Hence, as he wrote in the preface to Enemies: A Love Story (1972), he "did not have the privilege of going through the Hitler holocaust." That event did, however, deeply influence his writing. In the August 1943 Di tsukunft Singer published "Arum der yidisher proze in polyn" ("Concerning Yiddish Literature in Poland," 1995). After surveying the state of Yiddish letters from the coming of the Enlightenment to Poland in the early 1900s to the Nazi invasion, Singer concluded that this world had now vanished. "For the Yiddish writer who comes from there, the very ground from which he derived literary sustenance has been destroyed along with Jewish Poland. His characters are dead. Their language has been silenced. All that he has to draw from are memories."

Singer would evoke these memories in much of his subsequent fiction and in his autobiographical works. His "Short Friday" and "Gimpel Tam" (both 1945) are set in the old-world shtetls of Lapschitz and Frampol, respectively. The first story re-creates the loving relationship of Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe, who suffocate together one Sabbath because their oven's flue is closed. Their deaths represent the fate of millions of their coreligionists who perished in Hitler's ovens. The Frampol of "Gimpel Tam" is less endearing than Lapschitz; its inhabitants repeatedly deceive the title character. Yet ultimately Gimpel discovers that "there were really no lies," that "the world is entirely an imaginary world." Singer repeatedly emphasizes that through memory and imagination the vanished world of pre-World War II European Jewry could be preserved.

Singer's family chronicles, patterned after those of his older brother, Israel Joshua Singer, present a panoramic view of Jewish life in Poland. Taken together, The Family Moskat (1950), The Manor (1967), and The Estate (1969) portray life in Polish villages and in Warsaw from 1863 to the coming of the Nazis. As in "Gimpel Tam," Singer does not sentimentalize the past, nor does he offer easy answers to explain the hard life Jews endured. When the Jews in The Family Moskat are expelled from Tereshpol Minor, the local rabbi wonders, "Where are your worldly remedies?" At the same time, the secular Jekuthiel asks, "Where is your Lord of the Universe now?"

The Slave (1962) is set in seventeenth-century Poland in the aftermath of the Chmielnicki massacres, a series of pogroms that must recall the Holocaust to Singer's readers. Despite the devastation wrought by the Cossacks here and by the Nazis in Enemies: A Love Story, Singer offers hope for the future. Both novels show the rebuilding of the Jewish community through conversion and birth. Shosha, set in pre-World War II Poland, is more ambivalent. It shows that Holocaust survivors have rebuilt their lives, but the book ends with Aaron Greidinger and Haiml Chentshiner sitting in a dark room waiting for an explanation of the deaths and suffering they have witnessed, an explanation that will not be offered.

For Singer modernism is a false messiah: one cannot escape one's past. Asa Heshel Bennet in The Family Moskat leaves his village for Warsaw and abandons his Hasidic dress for a new wardrobe that makes him look like a Gentile. But when he orders lunch at a restaurant, the owner instantly recognizes him as a Jew and insults him. The nonbelievers Masha in Enemies and Betty Slonim in Shosha kill themselves. Without a past they also have no future. To deny God's existence is to destroy oneself. As "Gimpel Tam" illustrates, the greatest credulity is the belief in nothing. Singer does not, however, endorse unthinking orthodoxy. Yasha Mazur in The Magician of Lublin (1960) and Joseph Shapiro in The Penitent (1983) adhere so rigidly to the law that they isolate themselves from their family and community.

In his Nobel Prize address Singer joked that he wrote in Yiddish because a dead language was ideal for one who wrote about ghosts. More seriously, he described Yiddish as "the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful humanity." That is the humanity that fills his fiction, that searches for answers in a silent world where anything is possible, even salvation.

—Joseph Rosenblum

See the essays on Enemies: A Love Story,"The Lecture," and "The Letter Writer."

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

SINGER, Isaac Bashevis

Nationality: American. Born: Icek-Hersz Zynger in Leoncin, Poland, 14 July 1904; immigrated to the U.S., 1935; became citizen, 1943. Education: The Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary, Warsaw, 1921-22. Family: Married Alma Haimann in 1940; one son from earlier marriage. Career: Proofreader and translator, Literarishe Bleter, Warsaw, 1923-33; associate editor, Globus, Warsaw, 1933-35; journalist, Vorwärts (Jewish Daily Forward) Yiddish newspaper, New York, from 1935. Awards: Louis Lemed prize, 1950, 1956; American Academy grant, 1959; Daroff Memorial award, 1963; Foreign Book prize (France), 1965; two National Endowment for the Arts grants; Bancarella prize (Italy), 1968; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1969; National Book award, for children's literature, 1970, and, for fiction, 1974; Nobel prize for literature, 1978; American Academy gold medal, 1989. D.H.L.: Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, 1963. D.Lit.: Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, 1972; D.Litt.: Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, 1972. Ph.D.: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1973. Litt.D.: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1974; Long Island University, Greenvale, New York, 1979. Member: American Academy, 1965; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1969; Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences; Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences. Died: 24 July 1991.

Publications

Short Stories

Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories, translated by Saul Bellow and others. 1957; as Gimpel Tam un anderer Detailungen, 1963.

The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories, translated by Elaine Gottlieb and others. 1961.

Short Friday and Other Stories, translated by Ruth Whitman and others. 1964.

Selected Short Stories, edited by Irving Howe. 1966.

The Séance and Other Stories, translated by Ruth Whitman and others. 1968.

A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories, translated by Isaac BashevisSinger and others. 1970.

A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories, translated by IsaacBashevis Singer and others. 1973.

Passions and Other Stories. 1975.

Old Love. 1979.

The Collected Stories. 1982.

The Image and Other Stories. 1985.

The Death of Methuselah and Other Stories. 1988.

Novels

Der sotn in Goray. 1935; as Shoten an Goray un anderer Dertailungen [Satan in Goray and Other Stories], 1943; as Satan in Goray, translated by Jacob Sloan, 1955.

Di Familie Mushkat. 1950; as The Family Moskat, translated by A.H. Gross. 1950.

The Magician of Lublin, translated by Elaine Gottlieb and JosephSinger. 1960.

The Slave, translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cecil Hemley. 1962.

The Manor, translated by Elaine Gottlieb and Joseph Singer. 1967.

The Estate, translated by Elaine Gottlieb, Joseph Singer, and Elizabeth Shub. 1969.

Enemies: A Love Story, translated by Alizah Shevrin and ElizabethShub. 1972.

Shosha, translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Joseph Singer. 1978.

Reaches of Heaven. 1980.

The Penitent. 1983.

The King of Fields, translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer. 1988.

Scum, translated by Rosaline Dukalsky Schwartz. 1991.

The Certificate, translated by Leonard Wolf. 1992.

Fiction (for children; translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elizabeth Shub)

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories. 1966.

Mazel and Shlimazel; or, The Milk of a Lioness. 1967.

The Fearsome Inn. 1967.

When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories, translated by Channah Kleinerman-Goldstein and others. 1968.

Joseph and Koza; or, The Sacrifice to the Vistula. 1970.

Alone in the Wild Forest. 1971.

The Topsy-Turvy Emperor of China. 1971.

The Fools of Chelm and Their History. 1973.

A Tale of Three Wishes. 1976.

Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus, and Other Stories, translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer and others. 1976.

The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah. 1980.

The Golem. 1982.

Stories for Children. 1984.

Plays

The Mirror (produced 1973).

Shlemiel the First (produced 1974).

Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy, with Leah Napolin, from a story by Singer (produced 1974). 1979.

Teibele and Her Demon, with Eve Friedman (produced 1978). 1984.

Other (for children; translated by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elizabeth Shub)

A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw(autobiographical), translated by Channah Kleinerman-Goldstein and others, photographs by Roman Vishniac. 1969.

Elijah the Slave: A Hebrew Legend Retold, illustrated by AntonioFrasconi. 1970.

The Wicked City. 1972.

Why Noah Chose the Dove. 1974.

Other

In My Father's Court (autobiography), translated by ChannahKleinerman-Goldstein, Elaine Gottlieb, and Joseph Singer, 1966.

A Singer Reader. 1971.

The Hasidim: Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings, with IraMoskowitz. 1973.

Love and Exile: The Early Years: A Memoir. 1984.

A Little Boy in Search of God: Mysticism in a Personal Light, illustrated by Ira Moskowitz. 1976.

A Young Man in Search of Love, translated by Joseph Singer. 1978.

Lost in America, translated by Joseph Singer. 1981.

Nobel Lecture. 1979.

Singer on Literature and Life: An Interview, with Paul Rosenblatt and Gene Koppel. 1979.

Conversations with Singer, with Richard Burgin. 1985.

Conversations: Singer, edited by Grace Farrell. 1992.

Editor, with Elaine Gottlieb, Prism 2. 1965.

Translator (into Yiddish):

Pan, by Knut Hamsun. 1928.

Di Vogler [The Vagabonds], by Knut Hamsun. 1928.

In Opgrunt Fun Tayve [In Passion's Abyss], by GabrieleD'Annunzio. 1929.

Mete Trap [Mette Trap], by Karin Michäelis. 1929.

Roman Rolan [Romain Rolland], by Stefan Zweig. 1929.

Viktorya [Victoria], by Knut Hamsun. 1929.

Oyfn Mayrev-Front Keyn Nayes [All Quiet on the Western Front], by Erich Maria Remarque. 1930.

Der Tsoyberbarg [The Magic Mountain], by Thomas Mann. 4 vols., 1930.

Der Veg oyf Tsurik [The Road Back], by Erich Maria Remarque. 1931.

Araber: Folkstimlekhe Geshikhtn [Arabs: Stories of the People], by Moshe Smilansky. 1932.

Fun Moskve biz Yerusholayim [From Moscow to Jerusalem], by Leon S. Glaser. 1938.

*

Bibliography:

by Bonnie Jean M. Christensen, in Bulletin of Bibliography 26, January-March 1969; A Bibliography of Singer 1924-1949 by David Neal Miller, 1984.

Critical Studies:

Singer and the Eternal Past by Irving Buchen, 1968; The Achievement of Singer edited by Marcia Allentuck, 1969; Critical Views of Singer edited by Irving Malin, 1969, and Singer by Malin, 1972; Singer by Ben Siegel, 1969; Singer and His Art by Askel Schiotz, 1970; Singer, The Magician of West 86th Street by Paul Kresh, 1979; Singer by Edward Alexander, 1980; The Brothers Singer by Clive Sinclair, 1983; Fear of Fiction: Narrative Strategies in the Works of Singer by David Neal Miller, 1985, and Recovering the Canon: Essays on Singer, by Miller and E. J. Brill, 1986; From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Singer by Grace Farrell Lee, 1987; Understanding Singer by Lawrence Friedman, 1988; Singer: A Study of the Short Fiction by Edward Alexander, 1990; Transgression and Self-Punishment in Isaac Bashevis Singer's Searches by Frances Vargas Gibbons, 1995; Discussion Notes on Love and Exile by Isaac Bashevis Singer by Felicity Bloch, 1995; Critical Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer edited by Grace Farrell, 1996; Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life by Janet Hadda, 1997; Lost Landscapes: In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland by Agata Tuszynska, 1998.

* * *

Perhaps the best introduction to the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer is reading the autobiographical stories that appear in the collection called In My Father's Court. There one sees the effect of characters and events in prewar Poland on a young, impressionable, and highly sensitive boy whose father is an orthodox rabbi and whose mother was the descendant of rabbis. Although Singer later followed his brother J. B. Singer to the United States, his spiritual roots remained firmly planted in the land of his youth. There he experienced not only the religious traditions of his parents and particularly of his father's Bet Din, or religious court, but also the encroachments upon those traditions his brother experienced as he sought emancipation and enlightenment in a more modern world of art, literature, and politics.

Indeed, the conflicts between sacred and profane modes of existence inform a great deal of Singer's fiction. So does the intermingling of fantasy and reality that springs from the folktales and folklore of the humble Jews Singer most often writes about as they struggle with mundane existence—an existence enlivened by superstition, vivid dreams and ghosts, dybbuks, and demons, either imagined or real. Singer's straightforward, unembroidered style (as translated from Yiddish into English) conveys these extraordinary imaginings in such a way that they invariably disarm disbelief and captivate the reader's sense of actuality. For example, the horrendous events of the story "Blood" (Short Friday and Other Stories) end with the representation of an utterly dissolute and sinful woman as a werewolf. Incredible as Risha's transformation might otherwise seem, the course of her life makes this not only a just and proper outcome, but an almost inevitable one as well.

This intermingling of fantasy and reality is a hallmark of Singer's fiction, as it is of much Jewish, especially Cabbalist, writing. But Singer disclaims any links to the tradition of Yiddish literature, which he defines as more sentimental than his and more given to advocating social justice. While he is not opposed to social justice, he is strongly opposed to sentimentality, or "schmaltz." As often as not, tragic rather than poetic justice pervades his fiction, as in "The Gentleman from Cracow" (Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories). There the poor Jews in the shtetl, or village, of Frampol find transitory relief from their grinding poverty when a rich Jew arrives in town and begins spreading about his largesse. Although devout Rabbi Ozer sees danger and tries to warn his flock against the desecrations and depredations the gentleman's advent foments, the villagers continue to justify their behavior through extenuation and ultimately defy their rabbi outright. They are eventually caught up in a horrible frenzy of greed and lust that ends in a catastrophe from which the town never recovers. Here, too, fantasy and reality mingle and fuse, as the gentleman emerges as none other than Lucifer and his bride, Lilith. Together they bring terrible destruction to the foolish and unsuspecting villagers, whose fate is to remain forever paupers, despising all manner of riches.

The story that first brought Singer to the attention of the English-speaking world when Saul Bellow translated it in 1953, "Gimpel the Fool" is of a different order of imagination and justice. The pious if simple beliefs of religious Jews are here reaffirmed in ways both ironic and moving. Gimpel is slow-witted enough to be the butt of many in Frampol, where he lives and earns his living as a baker and where he is persuaded (as a cruel joke) to marry a woman who has already given birth to one bastard and, while married to Gimpel, gives birth to more. Although Gimpel discovers his wife's infidelity, his love for her and the children is such that, notwithstanding his wife's lies, he decides not to seek a divorce but continues to support Elka until her death. "What's the good of not believing?" he says. "Today it's your wife you don't believe; tomorrow it's God Himself you won't take stock in." Gimpel thus continues to believe, even when he knows he's being deceived by his wife or by others, until he too dies, firm in the conviction that "belief in itself is beneficial. It is written that a good man lives by faith."

But Singer knows very well that faith may be broken, even among those who earlier have demonstrated similarly strong convictions. The spirit may be willing but the body weak, as "The Unseen" demonstrates. And virtue sometimes must be its own reward, as in "Fire" (both stories in Gimpel the Fool). But occasionally even the most skeptical and unsocial of human beings may find goodness in others and in life through experiences either ordinary or extraordinary. This is what Bessie Popkin discovers in "The Key" (A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories) and what Rabbi Banish of Komarov learns in "Joy" (Gimpel the Fool). "The Key" also shows that Singer is not limited to stories of his native Poland alone. Having lived in the United States for over 50 years before his death and having traveled elsewhere as well, he naturally extended his range to include the experiences of American Jews and non-Jews, Argentines, Canadians, Israelis, and others. With no other agenda than to explore through his fiction the mysteries of human existence and so uncover some of its truths, Singer remained throughout his career a writer gifted with a strong sense of wonder, very much like the boy at the end of "The Purim Gift" (In My Father's Court) who stands "amazed, delighted, entranced" by the vastness of this world and "how rich [it was] in all kinds of people and strange happenings."

—Jay L. Halio

See the essays on "Gimpel the Fool" and "The Spinoza of Market Street."

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

SINGER, Isaac Bashevis

(b. 14 July 1904 in Radzymin, Poland; d. 24 July 1991 in Surfside, Florida), Yiddish-language fiction writer, possibly the last major author to work in that language, who received the Nobel Prize for literature for his "impassioned narratives, which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, bring universal human conditions to life."

Singer was the descendant of rabbis. Both of his grandfathers, as well as his father, Pinchos Menachem Singer, were rabbis; his father was also the author of several religious texts. Singer's mother, Bathsheba Zylberman Singer, clearly intended for him to follow suit. She sent the boy away at age eight to the shtetl (or rural Jewish settlement town) of Bilgoray to be raised by his grandmother and to receive a Jewish education unencumbered by the worldly distractions of Warsaw, the family's home. Singer dutifully returned as a teenager and enrolled in rabbinical seminary.

At the age of twenty-two, however, largely owing to the influence of his older brother, the writer Israel Joseph (known as "I. J.") Singer, he quit his clerical studies, declaring his intention of becoming a secular writer. His first novel, Satan in Goray, was completed in 1931 and published in installments in the Yiddish literary magazine Globus, where he was also employed as an editor. (The novel was published in book form in 1935.) Once again following the lead of his brother, Singer immigrated to the United States in 1935 in the face of the growing threat of Nazi Germany. This occasioned his separation from his common-law wife, Rachel Zamir, who chose to immigrate to British Palestine with their son. Singer had no contact with his son, Israel Zamir, for twenty years, but the two were later reconciled, and Zamir translated many of his father's short stories into Hebrew.

Arriving in New York during the depths of the Great Depression, Singer's brother helped him find work as a staff writer for the Jewish Daily Forward. In 1940 he married Alma Haimman Wasserman, and in 1943 he became a U.S. citizen. By the 1950s Singer had become a well-established figure and was gaining familiarity among English-language readers for his translated stories, which appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and other leading national magazines. Works published during the 1960s include short-story collections (The Spinoza of Market Street, Short Friday, and The Séance), novels (The Magician of Lublin, The Slave, Scum, The Manor, and The Estate), and a memoir (In My Father's Court). Most of his writings were serialized in the Yiddish-language newspaper the Jewish Daily Forward before being translated into English and other languages.

Singer's reputation and popularity burgeoned in the 1960s along with the startling revival of American ethnic consciousness that took place during the decade. One of the cultural events of the period was the literary celebration of the "Jewish-American novel," which included the works of such best-selling and highly regarded authors as Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Grace Paley, and Phillip Roth. Singer was deeply appreciated by these writers (Bellow was among his translators) as a kind of "missing link" between their tales of American assimilation and the vanished culture of European Jewry. Although he was proficient enough in English to translate his own works when he cared to, Singer's insistence on continuing to write primarily in Yiddish functioned as living proof that the perpetrators of the Holocaust had been less than fully successful in their aims.

Beyond these historical implications, and beyond the literary craftsmanship of his characters and narratives, Singer was especially appreciated during the 1960s by many American Jewish readers for introducing or reintroducing them to the mysticism of Yiddish folklore. This had been a salient feature of secular Jewish culture, obscured for most of a century by a combination of politically motivated promotions of social realism on the one hand and disdainful religious orthodoxy on the other. The dybbuks (wandering souls), golem (artificial humans endowed with life), and other pagan-like spirits of Singer's shtetl tales caught the imagination of a generation that otherwise had come to associate "Jewishness" with abstract polemics of either a socialist or a religious nature.

Moreover, the vital, almost uncontrollable, sexuality found in some Singer characters seemed very much in step with what was being called "the sexual revolution." The Slave, one of his best-selling novels, explores a sexual relationship between a Jewish man and the daughter of a Polish noble in seventeenth-century Poland. It was described in the New Republic as "a story of … forbidden love." Kalman Jacoby, a character who appears in the sequential novels The Estate (1967) and The Manor (1969), develops insatiable sexual appetites late in life that become the obsession of his old age. Several Singer stories even appeared in Playboy. "Sex, of course, is nothing new," he commented during one of the many talks he gave on the college lecture circuit. "But to write freely and truthfully about such a subject without causing headaches for yourself with an editor … is maybe a kind of revolution."

The widespread acceptance of Singer by both readers and critics can be seen as a milestone in the general reinterpretation of American literature during the 1960s. This reinterpretation rejected the notion of a monolithic canon of homogenous "great works" written in an anglophile tradition, in favor of an understanding of American culture as a sum of distinct parts, identifiable by ethnicity, race, and other cultural affinities. Singer's election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964 was a precedent-setting milestone in this regard, in that he was the first writer working primarily in a language other than English to be so honored. The publication of Short Friday and Other Stories earlier that year, which contained the writer's first pieces set in the United States, was helpful in gaining his inclusion.

In the mid-1960s Singer branched out in a new direction, publishing the first of his translated children's books, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories. This one was followed by several others, including A Day of Pleasure (1969), for which he received the National Book Award in 1970. "You can't be a big faker when you write for children," he told an interviewer, expressing pleasure with his success in the genre. He received a second National Book Award in 1974 for A Crown of Feathers, a short-story collection for adult readers. By the end of the decade, Singer found himself elevated to the status of a grand literary figure, a status confirmed in 1978 when he was awarded what many consider the greatest honor that can be bestowed on a writer, the Nobel Prize for literature. During his acceptance speech in Stockholm, he abruptly switched from English to Yiddish, thanking the Swedish Academy for honoring not just him, but "a loshon fun golus, ohn a land, ohn grenitzen, nisht geshtitzt fun kein shum meluchoch," translating this description of the tongue he had spoken in as "a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government." In the 1980s the writer went into semiretirement in Surfside, Florida, continuing to write stories, some of them set in the nearby Jewish neighborhoods of Miami Beach, until he was disabled by a series of strokes, which led to his death.

Singer's manuscript archive is located at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He declined invitations to write a comprehensive autobiography, but he did complete several books about his childhood. They include In My Father's Court (1967), A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969), and A Little Boy in Search of God: Mysticism in a Personal Light (1976), which is illustrated with photographs by Roman Vishniac. Grace Farrell, Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations (1992), is part of the University of Mississippi Press's series of transcribed interviews with writers. Lester Goran, The Bright Streets of Surfside (1994), paints a picture of the author's retirement years in Florida. As a Nobel laureate, Singer is the subject of much critical commentary and is included in virtually all biographical reference works concerning world literature, American literature, and Jewish and Jewish-American culture. Obituaries are in most major newspapers in the United States and Western Europe, including the New York Times (26 July 1991).

David Marc

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