Polish Jewry under Russian rule, the Jews in post-1918 Poland, the exiled survivors of the Holocaust in New York---all these are times and people of the past. Nothing of them really survives. Yiddish is but a pale shadow of its former self. So even the words are like pink clouds of last week's sunset. How they struggled ! How they loved, fought, schemed and sacrificed--the writers, the revolutionaries, the holy men, the pretenders, the warped geniuses, the dispossessed. Unless we have a writer of the stature of Isaac Bashevis Singer, all this is gone forever. We are left with dusty tomes, the photos of Roman Vishniac, and some Holocaust museums with their tragic rooms telling of mass murder. But if I want to know what the world of my ancestors--your neighbors' ancestors--was like, you have to read Singer; this book or any other. Devils and nasty spirits haunt the pages, along with believers in occult rituals and spirit mediums. A woman under a curse loses everything and finally disappears herself. The ferment that shook Jewish life in Poland during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries lives here---new ideas of democracy, Communism, equality of the sexes, secular life shook traditional Judaism, still sunk in prayers, study of the Talmud, and the eternal wait for the Messiah. Sons full of new energy return to the village from America, full of plans, only to find that somnolence rules supreme. Tradition is happy. [But doomed.] In America, the surviving writers and would-be writers hang out in cafes and delicatessens, talking away their days over tea and rice pudding. It's a far cry from Hemingway ! Some lecture, write, publish--others only argue and go home to cramped apartments in decaying Manhattan buildings. Lovers lose their chances, have their older mistresses die in their beds, they fade, come to life, and fade again. There is no explaining why people do things---everything is contradictory when it comes to behavior. The ironies of Fate rule supreme. We read of endless permutations of the human condition. In A CROWN OF FEATHERS we not only find Jewish life and tradition, but we find all humanity represented, just as in the work of the world's finest writers. That is appropriate, because Singer was one of the world's finest writers. If you haven't read him, you can start with this book. None of the stories are bad, but some are breathtakingly, amazingly good.