The Assistant

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Bernard Malamud's second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who "wants better" for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalent, falls in love with Helen Bober; at the same time he begins to steal from the store.
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The Assistant: A Novel

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Bernard Malamud's second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who "wants better" for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalent, falls in love with Helen Bober; at the same time he begins to steal from the store.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This new specialty-interest audio publisher is launching its line with two strong titles in addition to this one: Betrothed by S.Y. Agnon, read by Peter Waldren, and Miss America, 1945: Bess Myerson and the Year that Changed Our Lives by Susan Dworkin, read by Bess Myerson and Adam Grupper. Known especially for the craft of his short stories, Malamud (The Fixer; The Natural) published this novel in 1957. Frank Alpine is an Italian-American drifter who lands a job working for a humble Jewish grocer in Brooklyn. When he falls in love with the storekeeper's daughter, he is forced to reexamine his moral and spiritual beliefs. Guidall, one of audio's finest narrators, extracts a strong sense of atmosphere from Malamud's richly descriptive language. He throws himself into the many charged dialogue scenes--complete with the ethnic accents required--expressing pathos and humility without overdramatizing. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The clarity and concreteness of [Malamud's] style, the warm humanity over his people, the tender wit that keeps them first and compassionable, will delight many.... Mr. Malamud's people are memorable and real as rock."

—William Goyen, The New York Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451022158
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/1/1967
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) also wrote eight novels, he won the Pulitzer Prize and a second National Book award for The Fixer. Born in Brooklyn, he taught for many years at Bennington College in Vermont.


Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), perhaps more than any Jewish-American author in the twentieth century, including Saul Bellow, translated the literature of the Eastern European shtetl to the streets of America. So carefully written, so diligently constructed, are his stories and novels that one could erringly view them as narratives that represent a certain current of "Jewish" writing, or as period pieces. Upon numerous re-readings of his many works, the exact opposite feeling is engendered. This is one of the most profound literati of our age, and his contributions will surely transcend the earthly time in which they were written.

Because of the reconstruction of The Natural (1952) as a movie with a happy ending, belying the bitter pill swallowed by slugger Roy Hobbs at the end of the book, Malamud's popularity has enjoyed a revival, particularly for elevating the game of baseball - already an American fantasy - to the realm of mythos. The truth was that true to his literary forebears, I.L. Peretz and Sholom Aleichem, Malamud's reliance upon myth, legend, and magic often helped convey the most intimate details of existence, and consequently, life's pathos and sadness as much as life's joy and fulfillment. Malamud explicated the tragic role of the Jew in many of his stories, including The Fixer (1966), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and later was adapted into a motion picture. That novel was based on the true story of Mendel Beilis, victim of the Kiev Blood Libel of 1913.

The stories are marked by a faithfulness to accent and tone that lends an unmistakable reality to every sentence and idea Malamud chose to set forth. The Magic Barrel (1954) is the diadem of his many short pieces. The sufferings of a rabbinic student, Leo Finkle, and his heroic but ungainly attempt to turn his life inside out, as he grasps desperately with his forlorn search for a marriage partner, are wrenching and inexpressibly moving. Suffering is Malamud's focus, and no author probed the subject more intensely.

The crowning literary achievement for Malamud came with the publication of The Assistant (1957). Again, mixing myth with reality, a virtual monk, Morris Bober, a grocer, welcomes into his ÒcellÓ the itinerant ne'er-do-well, Frank Alpine, whose initials most surely stand for the wonder-worker, St. Francis of Assisi. In the strictness of his prose, Malamud reshapes the grocery into a kind of Jewish monastery, as Frank, the repentant, becomes Morris's disciple in training for a new vocation. At a certain point in his novitiate, Frank asks Morris: "Tell me why it is that Jews suffer so much? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" Morris answers: "Do you like to suffer? They suffer because they are Jews." Frank responds: "That's what I mean, they suffer more than they have to." Morris replies: "If you live, you suffer. Some people suffer more, but not because they want. But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing. What do you suffer for Morris?" said Frank. "I suffer for you," Morris said calmly. "What do you mean?" asked Frank. "I mean you suffer for me."

The aching reality. The underlying mythos. The seeming simplicity. All point to the immeasurable depth of a master artisan and artist whose literary bequest remains one of the Jewish community's most priceless possessions.

Author biography courtesy of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 28, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      March 18, 1986
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., City College of New York, 1936; M.A., Columbia University, 1942

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The early November street was dark though night had ended, but thewind, to the grocer's surprise, already clawed. It flung his apron intohis face as he bent for the two milk cases at the curb. Morris Boberdragged the heavy boxes to the door, panting. A large brown bag ofhard rolls stood in the doorway along with the sour-faced, gray-hairedPoilisheh huddled there, who wanted one.

‘‘What's the matter so late?''‘‘Ten after six,'' said the grocer.

‘‘Is cold,'' she complained.

Turning the key in the lock he let her in. Usually he lugged inthe milk and lit the gas radiators, but the Polish woman was impatient.

Morris poured the bag of rolls into a wire basket on the counter andfound an unseeded one for her. Slicing it in halves, he wrapped it inwhite store paper. She tucked the roll into her cord market bag andleft three pennies on the counter. He rang up the sale on an old noisycash register, smoothed and put away the bag the rolls had come in,finished pulling in the milk, and stored the bottles at the bottom ofthe refrigerator. He lit the gas radiator at the front of the store andwent into the back to light the one there.

He boiled up coffee in a blackened enamel pot and sipped it, chewing on a roll, not tasting what he was eating. After he had cleanedup he waited; he waited for Nick Fuso, the upstairs tenant, a youngmechanic who worked in a garage in the neighborhood. Nick came inevery morning around seven for twenty cents' worth of ham and aloaf of bread.

But the front door opened and a girl of ten entered, her facepinched and eyes excited. His heart held no welcome for her.

‘‘My mother says,'' she said quickly,‘‘can you trust her tilltomorrow for a pound of butter, loaf of rye bread and a small bottleof cider vinegar?''

He knew the mother. ‘‘No more trust.''

The girl burst into tears.

Morris gave her a quarter-pound of butter, the bread and vinegar.

He found a penciled spot on the worn counter, near the cashregister, and wrote the sum under ‘‘Drunk Woman.'' The total nowcame to $2.03, which he never hoped to see. But Ida would nag ifshe noticed a new figure, so he reduced the amount to $1.61. Hispeace'the little he lived with'was worth forty-two cents.

He sat in a chair at the round wooden table in the rear of thestore and scanned, with raised brows, yesterday's Jewish paper that hehad already thoroughly read. From time to time he looked absentlythrough the square windowless window cut through the wall, to seeif anybody had by chance come into the store. Sometimes when helooked up from his newspaper, he was startled to see a customerstanding silently at the counter.

Now the store looked like a long dark tunnel.

The grocer sighed and waited. Waiting he did poorly. Whentimes were bad time was bad. It died as he waited, stinking in his nose.

A workman came in for a fifteen-cent can of King Oscar Norwe-giansardines.

Morris went back to waiting. In twenty-one years the store hadchanged little. Twice he had painted all over, once added new shelving.

The old-fashioned double windows at the front a carpenter hadmade into a large single one. Ten years ago the sign hanging outside fell to the ground but he had never replaced it. Once, when businesshit a long good spell, he had had the wooden icebox ripped out anda new white refrigerated showcase put in. The showcase stood at thefront in line with the old counter and he often leaned against it as hestared out of the window. Otherwise the store was the same. Yearsago it was more a delicatessen; now, though he still sold a little delicatessen,it was more a poor grocery.

A half-hour passed. When Nick Fuso failed to appear, Morris gotup and stationed himself at the front window, behind a large card-boarddisplay sign the beer people had rigged up in an otherwiseempty window. After a while the hall door opened, and Nick cameout in a thick, hand-knitted green sweater. He trotted around thecorner and soon returned carrying a bag of groceries. Morris was nowvisible at the window. Nick saw the look on his face but didn't looklong. He ran into the house, trying to make it seem it was the windthat was chasing him. The door slammed behind him, a loud door.

The grocer gazed into the street. He wished fleetingly that hecould once more be out in the open as when he was a boy'never inthe house, but the sound of the blustery wind frightened him. Hethought again of selling the store but who would buy? Ida still hopedto sell. Every day she hoped. The thought caused him grimly to smile,although he did not feel like smiling. It was an impossible idea so hetried to put it out of his mind. Still, there were times when he wentinto the back, poured himself a spout of coffee and pleasantly thoughtof selling. Yet if he miraculously did, where would he go, where? Hehad a moment of uneasiness as he pictured himself without a roof overhis head. There he stood in all kinds of weather, drenched in rain, andthe snow froze on his head. No, not for an age had he lived a wholeday in the open. As a boy, always running in the muddy, rutted streetsof the village, or across the fields, or bathing with the other boys inthe river; but as a man, in America, he rarely saw the sky. In the earlydays when he drove a horse and wagon, yes, but not since his firststore. In a store you were entombed.

The Assistant. Copyright © by Bernard Malamud. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The story will haunt you long after you've turned the last page

    Bernard Malamud captured the immigrant life beautifully - America where dreams are made or broken; where one struggles to make a better life for their family. Morris Bober is confined to his small grocery store - his grave - an honest man struggling to make an honest living against many odds. In this captivating story you will encounter the physicality of rape, robbery, beatings and death. The mental and emotional journey you will take includes astounding glimpses of internal conflict, guilt, regret, human suffering, remorse, reconciliation, a quest for forgiveness and redemption. The Assistant is a story that transcends time. Wonderful read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2005


    This book was interesting. The way the author explained and described each ethnic group. From the Jewish grocer to the New York liquer dealer. It is set in post war Brooklyn. Its a good book, it teaches you about Jewish life as well as other cultures you may not know about. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about different cultures in a past time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2004

    An Interesting Piece

    The ¿American dream¿ is cleverly described in Bernard Malamud¿s book, The Assistant. Bober, the main character, is a recent Russian immigrant who is trying to run a grocery store in Brooklyn in the late 1800¿s. A new grocery store is making him loose costumers, and the store is being supported mostly by his daughters pay checks. Malamund is able to describe the stress and desperation of Bobers¿s predicament. Just when Bober considers giving up the business, He meets Frank Alpine. And when Frank crosses paths with Bober, they start to take on a father-son relationship, and the story begins to develop rapidly. The characterization in Malamud¿s work is fantastic. The characters are honestly displayed with both positive and negative aspects. The scene of the story is also interesting. New York at that time was very diverse and unique, and Malamud captures that with his descriptions of the many outdoor scenes where Frank looks deep within his soul. The book puts in perspective the troubles immigrants and new business owners have, and the importance of work ethics and honesty.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2002

    Malamud 's finest novel .A minor classic.

    This in my judgment remains Malamud's finest novel. The story of Frankie Alpine the petty thief who comes to work in the store of Morris Bober, a poor Jewish grocer , and through the work come to identify and understand Jewish suffering is a poetically written , and deeply moving work. The story of Frankie Alpine's moral transformation in becoming Malamud 's kind of Jew is subtlely and beautiful told, as is Alpine's problematic love story with Bober's daughter. For Malamud a Jew is someone who is made more humane by a special and deep suffering.This is not a very Halachic definition, and not perhaps a very accurate definition in any real way. But it is Malamud 's literary and philosophical premise, and it informs all his work.Here it is illustrated in its most compelling and sympathetic way . Who reads this work will feel the need to be a kinder and better human being.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2001


    this is the first book by malamud i've ever read and i can honestly say i'm not even one bit disappointed. i love the jewish grocer's dignity and frank's moral renewal. both characters made me once again re-evaluate my very existence in this world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    I know this is supposed to be one of the "it" books bu

    I know this is supposed to be one of the "it" books but I simply could not get into this story at all. I thought the characters were awful people who actively ruined their own lives. I am not the kind of person that needs rainbows and sunshine in every story I read, but I would like at least one character to root for. Sadly this book did not have any such character. Totally depressing, skip it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    Depressing, boring, find another book!

    Without a doubt the most boring book I have EVER read. This was required reading for my Sophomore son; I'll read anything and picked it up. I can not imagine why an English teacher would imagine that a 15 year old would have any interest in this type of setting. The main character suffers through his entire life trying to make a living, his daughter gives up her dream of an education to help the family, his "assistant" steals from him, assaults him, and rapes his daughter. Not to mention his nagging wife, who talks him out of his "dream" to be a pharmacist. If you want to be depressed, read the newspaper or watch the evening newscast. There is a multitude of great literature our children can read...classics, that depict daily life...please, let the suffering stop with "The Assistant"!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Pretty Good

    It kept interested throughout the entire book. Yet I kinda saw a few things coming without having to even read that part. :P

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Unsuccessful portray of characters

    This is a book where most of the characters complain about their harsh lives...for me it turned out as a self-pitying bonanza. The story dragged on and more than half way through I couldn't imagine how this was going to end. A plethora of depressing events take place and then the ending slaps you in the face with a moral punch. The Assistant is supposed to be about the transformation of this Frank Alpine. Malamud, the author, focused more on basic facts and actions rather than helping the reader see "eye to eye" with Frank. I really wanted to empathize with these characters and see what they saw. Out of everything that happened the ending left me unsatisfied and with a big, "Who cares?" hanging over my head.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2004

    why I picked this particular book

    I liked this book because it taught me how to look at things and makes me want change the way I act towards other's. The book explained how this man named Frank went through transformation and he didn't really know who he wanted to be and he felt lost. The book made me feel that I shouldn't give up on anything just because I may not have certain things in life. I feel that when you don't have much in life that you have to put effort to try to do something with your life so that you then can be in a higher postion that everyone else is in. The book made me realize to not to judge anyone just because they might not be in the same religion that you are in you should always get to know the good side of a person, before you judge first and end up getting the bad side of them. This book can really make some one feel different about themselves after reading this book because it gives you tips and details on how a man that didn't have anything ended up having pride and being caring of other's at the end. So I would recommand people to read this book if they want to learn a little more on how they can change certain things about themselves after reading the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2001

    Not the best book

    The book started off very, very boring. I almost put it down. But then it got a little interesting. (Just a little). The ending wasn't great at all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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