Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life

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Isaac Bashevis Singer brought the vibrant milieu of pre-Holocaust Polish Jewry to the English-speaking world through his subtle psychological insight, deep sympathy for the eccentricities of Jewish folk custom, and unerring feel for the heroism of everyday life. His novels, including The Family Moskat and Enemies: A Love Story, and his short stories, such as "Yentl"  and "Gimpel the Fool," prove him a consummate storyteller and probably the greatest Yiddish writer of the twentieth  century.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1978, was the greatest Yiddish writer of the 20th century, a profoundly important voice in world literature, and an invaluable witness to the vanishing culture of Eastern European Jews. This brilliant biography reveals Singer's private and public life and the complex array of historical, familial, cultural and artistic forces that shaped his career. 17 halftones. 272 pp. 10,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The iridescent charm of Isaac Bashevis Singer is such as to give the slip to the very letters of the alphabet, but Janet Hadda has out-tricked the Yiddish trickster in this brief but wonderfully alive-and-kicking biography. The story she tells will entertain, appall, and fascinate both those who have yet to discover Singer and those who think they know him."—Jack Miles, MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of God: A Biography
Kirkus Reviews
An analytical, unsympathetic portrait of the Nobel Prizewinning Yiddish writer.

Drawing on interviews with Singer's wife, translators, and fellow writers, Hadda (Yiddish/UCLA) paints the writer as a deeply alienated and selfish man. Drawing heavily on psychoanalytic theory, Hadda contends that his difficulties began in his Warsaw home, where he identified with his mother, the more rational, pragmatic, and "masculine" parent, rather than with his father, the scholarly dreamer. Hadda suggests that his intense relationship with his sister, Hinde Esther, complicated Singer's relationships with women. The sole family member to provide him with consistent affection, Hinde Esther suffered from epileptic fits accompanied by bizarre behavior. "He wrote in order to fill in the overwhelming void of loss," Hadda argues, "and fill it he did with all the vibrant, expansive, crazy and troubling characters who represented Hinde Esther's disturbing but enlivening presence." While Singer freed himself of his family, their demons always followed him and peopled his work. Unable to commit himself to the mother of Israel, his only son, Singer ended up marrying a woman from a wealthy, secular background who did not even know Yiddish. He did not connect much better with men. His relationship with his brother, novelist I.J. Singer, who introduced him to life in America and to the Yiddish daily Forward, was tinged with jealousy and resentment. Singer rarely had kind words for anyone. In fact, as a strict vegetarian, Singer seemed to direct more kindness to animals than to people.

The psychoanalytical musings are interspersed with valuable comments about Singer's fiction and characters. But for a livelier and more rounded portrait, turn instead to Israel Zamir's memoir, Journey to My Father, Isaac Bashevis Singer (1995). There, Singer comes off as far more human and complex than the cantankerous, cardboard character who emerges here.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299186944
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Hadda is the author of Yankev Glatshteyn and Passionate Women, Passive Men: Suicide in Yiddish Literature. She is professor of Yiddish at the University of California, Los Angeles and training and supervising analyst at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis and the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.

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