Shadows on the Hudsonby Isaac Bashevis Singer
Set in New York City in the late forties, Shadows on the Hudson presents the inter-twined lives of a group of prosperous Jewish refugees. Boris Makaver is the center of the circle, a pious and wealthy businessman. His greatest trial is his daughter, Anna, unlucky in her choice of husbands. Married first to Yasha Kotik, a lunatic actor, and then to a hapless,/i>… See more details below
Set in New York City in the late forties, Shadows on the Hudson presents the inter-twined lives of a group of prosperous Jewish refugees. Boris Makaver is the center of the circle, a pious and wealthy businessman. His greatest trial is his daughter, Anna, unlucky in her choice of husbands. Married first to Yasha Kotik, a lunatic actor, and then to a hapless, unemployed attorney, she plans to escape with Hertz Grein, a man torn between ascetic yearnings and romantic entanglements. Amid family quarrels and religious debates, marriages of love and convenience are attempted and abandoned, lovers separate, and spouses die or even manage to return from the dead.
“A significant event, a major addition to the English-language Singer oeuvre. It is a startling, piercing work of fiction, a book with a strong claim to being Singer's masterpiece.” The New York Times
“A matchless portrait of human frailty seen from the perspective of a vast compassionate understanding. A major work, from one of the great modern novelists.” Kirkus Reviews
“This major novel is a welcome addition to the Singer library.” Library Journal
- Penguin Group (USA)
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.04(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.19(d)
Read an Excerpt
Stanislaw Luria, Ann's husband, was trying to win over his host's nephew Herman. While Herman remained a staunch Communist, Luria was bitterly opposed. His only grievance against America was its failure to drop the atomic bomb on Moscow instead of Hiroshima. Luria and Herman had one thing in common, however: they both spoke eloquent Polish. Luria had trained as a lawyer in Warsaw, and Herman had studied in the jurisprudence faculty before going off to defend Madrid.
Now Luria reasoned: "Prosze pana, I know exactly what you think. I know more Marxism than all the Marxists put together. To my regret, I too made a fool of myself for a while. There was a time I even believed in Lenin. Ah, in one's youth one makes mistakes. When a young man doesn't make mistakes, there's something wrong with him. But one thing I hope you'll grant me: that without Uncle Sam's help, without lend-lease, your Comrade Stalin would never have marched into Berlin. This, I expect even the most ardent Stalinist will concede ..."
Luria spoke as if he was begging Herman to see reason. Luria, past fifty, was short and broad-shouldered, and had an enormous head, no neck to speak of, a disheveled shock of brown hair streaked with gray, and a face that was either bloated or swollen by self-importance. His thick eyebrows overhung yellow eyes set in blue pouches flaked with crud. His nose had unusually large nostrils. There was something brutish and wild about him, yet he seemed sluggish, half-asleep. His narrow forehead was deeply cloven--whether with a wrinkle or a scar it was difficult to say.
Herman was barely thirty three, but he looked older. He was short like his uncle but not so homely. He had a square head with hair cropped short in military fashion--in Spain he had been promoted to the rank of either captain or major--and cold, steel-gray eyes behind a pince nez. Herman spoke slowly and with the deliberation of a diplomat watching every word.
His voice beat woodenly. "No one can know what would have happened without lend-lease. That is an academic question. One thing is beyond doubt: America delayed opening a second front until the Soviet Union was on the verge of decisive victory."
"Are you suggesting that the invasion of France was superfluous?" Luria demanded.
"By that time the fascists had already been smashed."
"If we let Stalin write world history, he would more than likely record that the Allies fought on Hitler's side," Luria retorded acidly.
"Until Stalingrad, the Allies always hoped for a Soviet defeat."
Luria raised his eyebrows. His yellow eyes kindled with fury. His right hand--broad, heavy, with swollen veins and fingernails resembling claws twitched as though about to strike a blow. But it never left his knee. Instead, he countered ponderously: "Oh God, look at the might of falsehood! How incredibly vast and powerful it is! Like a bottomless pit."
Boris was not a scholar, not a learned man, but he loved both Torah and knowledge. Although he had been successful in business, he regretted more than once that he had not become a rabbi, a scholar, or simply a hack writer. Short, stocky, with hands and feet too big for his small frame, large black eyes, a crooked nose, and thick lips, he wore a goatee and spoke in a booming voice. He persisted in speaking Warsaw Yiddish, having never learned either German or English properly. While he could make out a page of the Gemara, when he had occasion to write in Hebrew, it was riddled with errors. Boris had one aptitude--for trade. He smelled out business. When he arrived in New York from Havana, he understood not a single word of English, but after only four weeks of wandering about the city, he knew exactly where to make money. Of course it was hardly a great feat to get rich in those years. Washington was spending billions. He had become a partner in a factory that manufactured leather goods. Here in America he knew businessmen with whom he had dealt while he was still in Berlin, so he easily obtained credit, established connections, made contacts. Boris used to observe that in business, as in all other matters, there were many crooked ways but only one straight road. One had simply to tread the path of pobity. But books, holy and secular, were something else. They comprised a sea in which one could swim one's whole life and never reach any island of understanding. Many times he had heard how rabbis, professors, and scholars abused each other is ignoramuses and blockheads. However deeply a man might have studied, there was always another to sneer at him.
Boris loved listening to the way these intellectuals talked, wrangled, mocked, and even slandered one another privately. Zadok Halperin, for example, was one of the people Boris had supported in Berlin. Halperin was something of a celebrity. He had obtained a degree in philosophy in Switzerland, and for a time had been a lecturer at the University of Bern. Halperin's German works on Kant, Solomon Maimon, and Hermann Cohen were cited in philosophy textbooks. His Hebrew monographs were studied at the University of Jerusalem. His proficiency in Talmud and other sacred studies knew no limits. When challenged, he could recite any passage by heart. But he had never succeeded in making a living from this enormous knowledge. Now he sat in an armchair in Boris's living room: short, stout, with a protruding belly, a head of white hair, and a pair of thick whiskers that made him look like Nietzsche. Half-laughing eyes full of boyish mischief pecked out from under his bushy eyebrows. The more generously Boris helped him, the more captiously Halperin behaved toward his benefactor. Having remained a Maskil, Halperin despised religion. Now, as always, the discussion revolved around Jewishness, and Halperin remarked, in his clumsy Germanized Yiddish, "What do you want, my dear Herr Makaver? One cannot turn back the clock of history. Just because Hitler was a maniac, a psychopath, must the world return to the Middle Ages? Foolishness! There is only one source of knowledge and that is experience--the good old sense experience of Locke and Hume. Everything else is useless. I go even further than Hume: for me the only valid determinant is empirical mathematics. If there were no straight line, if everything had humps, then we would need another geometry."
"Now we have another geometry," Margolin interrupted. "Have you never heard of Lobachevsky and Riemann?"
"I know, I know. But I maintain that Euclid's geometry will exist forever and the others' will remain nothing more than games. Call me a heretic, but I don't care for Einsteins' theory, either."
"One needs to understand before one can dislike," Margolin retorted.
"True indeed, and that's why I don't like it. Whatever one cannot understand is a priori rubbish. I knew Einstein, I knew him. I had many discussions with him in Berlin. He is, pardon me, an impractical man."
"An impractical man to whom we owe the atomic atomic bomb."
"Without Einstein there would still have been an atomic bomb."
"Well, well. They're starting already!" Boris intervened. "Always arguing about apples and oranges. Einstein is a genius, and you're both geniuses as well. Why lock horns? Because Rockefeller is a millionaire, there can't be another millionaire tomorrow? There's enough money here for both. And it's the same with knowledge ... Reytze, bring in the tea! Doctor, try this strudel. I'm not much of an expert on Einstein, but I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this strudel is delicious. Reytze baked it. You can't put in your mouth the strudel they bake here in America."
"Yes indeed, strudel is a weighty matter," said Halperin with a smile, revealing a mouthful of blackened teeth patched with bits of gold. He had been provided with a fork, but he preferred to eat with his hands. His fingers were short, covered with tufts of hair, and the nails had been bitten down. Beside eating a great deal, he could spend the whole day smoking cigars. Boris used to say that Halperin didn't smoke cigars, he swallowed them. He perpetually scattered heaps of ash around him from his tobacco stained fingertips. Reytze followed after him with an ashtray and an unblinking eye to prevent him from burning holes in the furniture. His black suit, which he wore in every season of the year and on all occasions, was irreparably stained. Clumps of hair bristled in his ears and nostrils. Even in America he insisted on wearing European-style stiff collars, broad ties, and detachable shirt cuffs. Since he refused even to try on any other kind of shoe, friends had to rummage through the whole of New York to find him rubber-soled ankle boots. A watch with three lids was stuck into his vest pocket. Margolin used to say that spiritually and physically Halperin was still living in the nineteenth century.
Of all the men present, Dr. Margolin was the tallest. Carrying himself erect, as he always did, he stood over six feet. He had a long, severe face and the cold gray eyes of a Prussian Junker, and he always dressed according to the latest fashion--his head shaved and his fingernails manicured. In Germany he even wore a monocle. Rumor had it that he had grown rich from performing illegal abortions. It was difficult to believe that forty years earlier Margolin had been a student at the yeshiva in Ger. He spoke Russian like a Muscovite, German like a Berliner, and English with an Oxford accent. All his life he had been a devotee of the athletic pastimes of the upper classes, so as a matter of course he had come to treat an aristocratic clientele in Berlin. In new York he belonged to all sorts of Gentile clubs. Despite this, however, both in Berlin and in New York he had remained on intimate terms with Boris Makaver. He came to all his dinner parties, he was his family physician, and on those rare occasions when Dr. Halperin's memory failed him when reciting passages from the Gemara, it was Solomon Margolin who prompted him and who caught his Latin errors.
Boris used to tease him: "That's not a head you've got--it's a musical instrument. Oh, Shloymele, if you hadn't surrendered to all this foolishness, you'd've surpassed our Sages in brilliance."
Now he said only, "Do as I say, Shloymele, take a piece of strudel. It can't possibly harm you. All this nonsense about calories isn't worth a kopeck."
Dr. Margolin stared at him coldly. "I don't want your paunch."
Meet the Author
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-91) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.
- Date of Birth:
- July 14, 1904
- Date of Death:
- July 24, 1991
- Place of Birth:
- Radzymin, Poland
- Place of Death:
- Surfside, Florida
- Attended Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary in Warsaw, Poland, 1920-27
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