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Kirkus ReviewsAn 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.