By Leonard Unger
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Extra resources for AMERICAN WRITERS, Volume 4
Singer's first novel to appear in English, it sprawls through the years 1911 to 1939 and three generations of Warsaw's brawling, disoriented Jews. Here (and occasionally elsewhere) he borrows several characters and expands incidents from the fiction of Joshua Singer, whom he credits with having taught him much of the writer's craft. But then both draw from the same fund of people and memories; both also utilize Gogol's sharp, kaleidoscopic detail and Flaubert's disciplined detachment to cut deeply into Jewish life.
Singer begins with Goray's isolated survivors excitedly receiving the year 1665-66; cabalist calcula- WRITERS tions have marked it as presaging the Messiah's return and the exile's termination. But Satan, not the Messiah, now appears to transform the community into a hotbed of gossip, vice, and expediency. His agents are newly arrived Sabbatians carrying word of their master's miracles and his boast to overthrow the Turkish Sultan. Disorders erupt in the prayer house as cultists and Orthodox struggle for control.
There Rabbi Singer conducted his rabbinical court, the Beth Din. Rooted in Jewish tradition, the court combined synagogue, law court, and psychoanalyst's consulting room. Isaac Singer recalls it was for him "the celestial council of justice, God's judgment . . " Most acted out their foolish, desperate, or selfless lives to the Mosaic law's very letter, developing thereby a wide range of behavioral quirks and obsessions. Krochmalna Street teemed with life and energy. Evoking that life with warmth, humor, verve, and, assumedly, imagination, Singer retells some of its uncountable tales.
AMERICAN WRITERS, Volume 4 by Leonard Unger