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Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991) is widely recognized as the most popular Yiddish writer of the twentieth century. His translated body of work, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, is beloved around the world. But although Singer was a very public and outgoing figure, much about his personal life remains unknown. In Isaac Bashevis Singer, Florence Noiville offers a glimpse into the world of this much-beloved but persistently elusive figure.
An astonishingly prolific writer, Singer was able to recreate the lost world of Jewish Eastern Europe and also to describe the immigrant experience in America. Drawing heavily upon folklore, Singer's work is noted for its mystical strain. But he was also heavily concerned with the problems of his own day, and through his novels and stories runs a strong undercurrent of social consciousness. Unafraid to celebrate peasant life, Singer was often accused of being vulgar, yet he was also recognized for a deeply moral sensibility. And much like his work, Singer's personal life was marked by contradiction: the son of a Rabbi, he struggled with warring currents of devotion and doubt. Solicitous of affection, he was also known for his philandering. Devoted to the notion of family, he abandoned his own son before the Second World War.
Drawing on letters, personal recollections, and interviews with Singer's friends, family, and publishing contemporaries, Florence Noiville speaks to these paradoxes. More appreciation than comprehensive biography, her narrative is rich in detail about the people, places, and ideas that shaped Singer's world. A remarkably vivid portrait of the man and his work emerges—a compassionate, vivid, and insightful vision of one of the twentieth century's greatest storytellers.
Nobel laureate I.B. Singer created a rich imaginary world during an emotionally austere childhood as the son of a rabbi absorbed in the Talmud and a cold, distant mother. His family's stint from 1908 to 1917 on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw's Jewish quarter, where his father arbitrated disputes, celebrated marriages and granted divorces, gave Isaac a front-row seat to the passionate dramas of daily life. This period was a fount of inspiration for Singer until his death in 1991. Far more complex than the media's image of the impish Jewish fabulist, Singer, as Noiville shows, was at once a calculating, charming womanizer and a depressive introvert who often alienated those closest to him, including his mentor and older brother Joshua, a bestselling novelist who invited him to America and got him his first commissions from the Jewish Daily Forward; Saul Bellow, whose brilliant translation of "Gimpel the Fool" was Singer's passport to fame; and his son, Israel Zamir, whom he abandoned in Poland at the age of five. Drawing on Singer's oeuvre as well as interviews with his son and various peers and collaborators, Le Monde literary critic Noiville paints a respectful, worthy portrait of the penniless immigrant who became a brilliant writer. Illus.