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Master of Dreams

Master of Dreams

by Dvorah Telushkin
A poignant and affectionate view of the life and work of the brilliant but troubled Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, written by his longtime assistant. Throughout Telushkin's tenure with Singer, she kept detailed diaries chronicling both their literary efforts and the evolution of their personal relationship. Master of Dreams explores the later years of Singer's


A poignant and affectionate view of the life and work of the brilliant but troubled Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, written by his longtime assistant. Throughout Telushkin's tenure with Singer, she kept detailed diaries chronicling both their literary efforts and the evolution of their personal relationship. Master of Dreams explores the later years of Singer's life through Telushkin's close relationship with him. B&W photos throughout.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
During the last 14 years of Nobel laureate Singer's life (1904-91), Telushkin was his secretary, often his traveling companion on his lectures and readings and an informal editor and translator of his Yiddish. Although, as she shows, he owed much to her ability to keep him going as he declined physically and mentally, he suffered nevertheless from the unrelenting disabilities of aging in becomingoften despite increasing wealth and recognitionunreliable, unpredictable and miserly. Telushkin endured those traits and loyally remained. Her memoir evokes Singer and the texture of his life in Manhattan and Miami as he drifts, often unawares, into enfeebled old age. She records him as a warm limner of the shtetl and the immigrant experience, and as a cranky but compulsive writer who never gave his translators adequate credit or sufficient compensation. Once asked at a lecture why he wrote in a "dying language," he quipped, "I love to write about spirits and ghosts and nothing is better for a ghost than a dying language." A sad and sometimes moving look at a master writer, Telushkin's portrait will be a source for future biographers. Photos. (Oct.) FYI: Oxford published another biography titled Isaac Bashevis Singer, by Janet Hadda, this spring (Forecasts, Mar. 10).
Kirkus Reviews
For most of the last 14 years of his life, I.B. Singer was assisted by Telushkin, a bright young woman who, in this charming and often poignant memoir, recalls their relationship with striking candor.

When Telushkin offered to drive the Nobel laureate to Bard College for the seminar he was teaching—in exchange for being allowed to audit the course—she never expected that he would agree, or that it would lead to a lengthy and turbulent professional and personal relationship with the last of the great Yiddish writers. The man she encountered was a natural charmer, an inveterate flatterer whose childlike demeanor could include the tantrums and dark moods of a spoiled child. Over the course of their time together, she went from being an unpaid chauffeur to serving as his secretary, amanuensis, and eventually a translator of some 20 of his short stories; she also became a close friend, frequent confidant, and surrogate daughter. Telushkin eventually found a second career for herself as a storyteller, and Master of Dreams is a storyteller's book; although it has a loosely chronological structure, it is really a series of thematically linked anecdotes, illuminating a complex, often disturbing character. In the course of his nearly 90 years of life, Singer abandoned or wounded nearly everyone he had been close to, from the son he ignored to his wife of 51 years. Telushkin is no exception, and much of the book's power comes from the excruciating deterioration of their friendship as the psychic demons that drove the writer combined with the no less potent hobgoblins of age and physical breakdown.

But the portrait that emerges is by and large a loving one, often lovely to read, honest to a fault, and the man portrayed comes across as an admirable figure, albeit one with huge flaws.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.67(h) x 1.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Master of Dreams

By Dvorah Telushkin

William Morrow & Company

Copyright © 1997 Dvorah Telushkin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0688118666

Chapter One

House of Yizkor

October 14, 1993. The house is stripped. There is on light bulb clamped onto the closet door in the foyer. Alma is sitting in a beach chair under this solitary light. She is tired. She has auctioned off almost every piece of furniture in the entire home. Hunched over piles of canceled checks, tax forms, and receipts from five and six decades back, she pulls off the rubber band and sighs. "I never knew he was earning such sums." She flips through the papers with bent fingers, then brings a check close to her nose. Reading it, she sighs again. 'And he kept me on such a tight budget all these years."

I pause to listen. Our shadows waver on the vacant walls. Silent languid shadows. After a moment, I run back to the "chaos" room and continue pulling letters from the drawers. I am cleaning out old cracked desks, filing Isaac's papers, and working in his house for nearly the last time. Hundreds of Yiddish manuscripts, notepads filled with ideas for stories, essays and plays, fan mail, and yellowing contracts are still crammed into drawers, spilling out of closets, and bursting from broken, crushed suitcases.

I never wanted to strip away Isaac's house. I never wanted his home dismantled and dissolved. Like my grandmother's house, it was supposed to be eternal, never-ending. But Alma has one month to clear everything out and ship all the papers to the University of Texas. When she told me, "Deborah, I cannot keep all these expenses. I will simply have to give up the apartment," my heart tightened in my chest.

"Do you know what it means to me to give up this apartment?" she laments. "Soon it will be thirty years that we lived here. All our memories are here. Everything connected to our former life. I love this apartment. Everything about it I love."

I do not answer. I loved the house as well, having grown up here in my way. I loved every leaking pen, every thesaurus and word finder, every crumbling page. To ward off my remorse, I create my own cocoon and work at a feverish pace. Hands and face blackened with soot, I am running back and forth between the chaos room, the hallway, and the living room, separating general from Yiddish fan mail, unpublished from published stories, and sorting reviews, labeling rows of boxes, building up a sweat. Some days, I spend up to twelve hours. I am feeling energized. As if some higher destiny has called upon me to clear out the dilapidating castle and close the mansion doom.

The empty bookshelves especially have saddened me. The soul of the house was plucked out and spirited away the day they carried off the books. Alma sold half the books to Florida International University and the other half to a private collector. In total, the two purchasers paid a few thousand dollars for several thousand volumes. I was told the books had not been packed but just thrown into boxes.

I regret that Alma had not thought to offer me some; the collections of Russian, Spanish, and Irish folktales that I had so cherished, his copy of As a Driven Leaf, his worn-out word finder, and Yehoash's Yiddish translation of the Bible. I remember the quote Isaac gave to the publishers: "This vill be like a treasure in every Jewish home."

Instead, I am being offered sheets, pillowcases, tablecloths, curtains, and bedspreads. I take two boxes of lace tablecloths, thinking they will be nice for my Shabbos (Sabbath) table ...


Excerpted from Master of Dreams by Dvorah Telushkin Copyright © 1997 by Dvorah Telushkin. Excerpted by permission.
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