By any standard, the word sweeping well suits Singer's novel "The Family Moskat." The novel spreads over almost a century of transformative history, ending at the outbreak of World War II, which will see before its end the entire civilization represented transformed into nothing but ash. Yet in the fashion of Tolstoy, Singer does not allow the great events he illustrates - WWI, the birth of modern Poland, the destruction of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the 1917 Revolution, the rise of Zionism - to consume the story he tells, instead using it as a canvas on which he brings his characters to life.
His diverse cast is also linked through their ties of either blood or marriage to Mashulam Moskat, the patriarch of the family of the novel's title. A wealthy Jew with many children, Singer uses his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to move over every crevice of Jewish life in Poland, from those who emigrated to America or Palestine, to the Hasidim of the small towns, to the urban intellectuals and merchants. In every case he paints a portrait at once sensitive yet real. Indeed, much of the criticism of this work has come from those who found Singer's portrayal, with its often flawed characters, as "too real." Yet Singer was a man seeking to offer later generations a window into a world that vanished in his lifetime in a flash of gas and violence; who can blame him for wishing to make it as true to life as he was able?
I must also mention that this FSG edition is truly beautiful, complete with a useful family tree that can help the reader navigate the maze of relationships in the Byzantine Moskat clan.