For most of us, remembering the Holocaust requires effort; we listen to stories, watch films, read histories. But the people who came to be called “survivors” could not avoid their memories. Sol Nazerman, protagonist of Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker , is one such sufferer.
At 45, Nazerman, who survived Bergen-Belsen although his wife and children did not, runs a Harlem pawnshop. But the operation is only a front for a gangster who pays Nazerman a comfortable salary for his services. Nazerman’s dreams are haunted by visions of his past tortures. (Dramatizations of these scenes in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film version are famous for being the first time the extermination camps were depicted in a Hollywood movie.)
Remarkable for its attempts to dramatize the aftereffects of the Holocaust, The Pawnbroker is likewise valuable as an exploration of the fraught relationships between Jews and other American minority groups. That this novel, a National Book Award finalist, remains so powerful today makes it all the more tragic that its talented author died, at age 36, the year after its publication. The book sold more than 500,000 copies soon after it was published.
|Publisher:||Fig Tree Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
When he died at 36 in December 1962, Edward Lewis Wallant had published two novels: The Human Season (1960), which received the Harry and Ethel Daroff Memorial Fiction Award for the year's best novel on a Jewish theme, and The Pawnbroker (1961), which was nominated for the National Book Award and secured Wallant a Guggenheim Fellowship. Two additional novels The Children at the Gate and Moonbloom were published posthumously. The Daroff Award was subsequently re-named in Wallant's honor. The Edward Lewis Wallant Award is now presented annually at the University of Hartford in the late author's native Connecticut; recipients have included Chaim Potok, Cynthia Ozick, Francine Prose, and Dara Horn.
Dara Horn is the author of four widely acclaimed novels and the recipient of honors including the National Jewish Book Award, the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize, the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award. She earned a PhD in comparative literature from Harvard University and has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Sarah Lawrence College and The City University of New York; in 2014, she held the Gerald Weinstock Visiting Professorship in Jewish Studies at Harvard, where she taught Yiddish and Hebrew literature. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.
Read an Excerpt
His feet crunched on the hard-packed sand. On his left was the Harlem River, across the street to the right was the Community Center, and beyond was the vast, packed city. At seven thirty in the morning it was quiet for New York. In that relative silence, his footsteps made ponderous, dragging sounds that were louder and more immediate in his own ears than the chugging of the various river boats or the wakening noise of traffic a few blocks away on 125th Street.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
It could almost have been the pleasant sound of someone walking over clean white snow. But the sight of the great, bulky figure, with its puffy face, its heedless dark eyes distorted behind the thick lenses of strangely old-fashioned glasses, dispelled any thought of pleasure.
Cecil Mapp, a small, skinny Negro, sat nursing a monumental hangover on the wooden curbing that edged the river. He gazed blearily at Sol Nazerman the Pawnbroker and thought the heavy, trudging man resembled some kind of metal conveyance. Look like a tank or like that, he thought. The sight of the big white man lifted Cecil’s spirit perceptibly; the awkward caution of his walk indicated misery on a different scale from his own. For a few minutes he forgot about his furious wife, whom he would have to face that night, forgot even the anticipated misery of a whole day’s work plastering walls with shaky, unwilling hands. He was actually moved to smile as Sol Nazerman approached, and he thought gaily, That man suffer !
He waved his hand and raised his eyebrows like someone greeting a friend at a party.
“Hiya there, Mr. Nazerman. Look like it goin’ to be a real nice day, don’t it?”
“It is a day,” Sol allowed indifferently, with a slight, side-wise movement of his head. As he plodded along, Sol watched the quiet flow of the water. Ironically, he noted the river’s deceptive beauty. Despite its oil-green opacity and the indecipherable things floating on its filthy surface, somehow its insistent direction made it impressive.
He narrowed his eyes at the August morning: the tarnished gold light on receding bridges, the multi-shaped industrial buildings, and all the random gleams that bordered the river and made the view somehow reminiscent of a great and ancient European city.
No fear that he could be taken in by it; he had the battered memento of his body and his brain to protect him from illusion.
Oh yes, yes, a nice, peaceful summer day; quiet, safe, full of people going about their business in the rich, promising heat. A dozing morning in a great city. He looked idly at the intricate landscape, his eyes lidded with boredom as he walked.
Suddenly he had the sensation of being clubbed. An image was stamped behind his eyes like a bolt of pain. For an instant he moved blindly in the rosy morning, seeing a floodlit night filled with screaming. A groan escaped him, and he stretched his eyes wide. There was only the massed detail of a thousand buildings in quiet sunlight. In a minute he hardly remembered the hellish vision and sighed at just the recollection of a brief ache, his glass-covered eyes as bland and aloof as before. Another minute and he was allowing himself the usual shallow speculation on his surroundings.
What was there here, in this shabby patch on his journey to the store each morning, that eased him slightly? Just a large, sandy triangle, perhaps two blocks long, a waste that seemed to wait for some utilitarian purposes, or a spot where something had once existed, whose traces were now covered by the anonymous, thin layer of beach sand. It was a block out of his way, too. Eh, go figure the things a person reacts to! He liked to come this way, that was enough. Maybe it was the lovely scenery , the charming, lovely type of people you might see strewn along the way, like Cecil Mapp. Whateverthe dreams of the night lost their sharp edges for him at this particular distance in time from his sleep. He glanced idly at the bright-painted tugs, the weathered, broad barges carrying all manner of things. Gradually, as he walked, he drained himself of phantoms of his sleep, and the multiple tiny abrasions he got from his sister and her family lost their soreness. Perhaps, then, this brief part of his walk was a bridge between two separate atmospheres, a bridge upon which he could readjust the mantle of his impregnable scorn.
As he reached the apex of the sandy area and turned to the pavement, he allowed himself a moment’s recall of his troubled sleep. Not that he could remember what he had dreamed, but he knew the dreams were bad. For years he had experienced bad dreams from time to time, but lately they were occurring more frequently.
My age, I guess. At forty-five the nerves lose some of their elasticity, he thought. “Agh,” he said aloud, and shrugged, to throw dirt over the introspection; in the diplomatic delicacy of truce there was no sense in displaying your dead.
But when he got to the store, he could not resist a grimace at the sight of the three gilded balls hanging over the doorway. It was no more than a joke in rather poor taste that had led to this. Still, he could never evade the foolish idea, each morning when he first looked at the ugly symbol of his calling, that the sign was the result of some particularly diabolic vandalism perpetrated during the night by an unknown tormentor.
The grimace turned to a wintry smile; he still had a thin sense of humor for certain little vulgarities. So what if the onetime instructor at the University of Cracow could now be found behind the three gold balls of a pawnshop? It was by far the mildest joke life had played on him.