The third work in a four-volume series, this masterpiece by the late Nobel Prize-winner takes a candid look into the lives of Holocaust survivors in New York City during the late 1940s.
This massive novel originally was serialized in the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward in 1957. Now it has finally been translated into English--in a capable version by Joseph Sherman--and Singer fans should be very grateful. Center stage is occupied by Boris Makaver, a master builder equally devoted to I-beams and the Talmud, and Anna, his much-married daughter. Fanning out from this duo, however, is a small universe of refugees, all of them served up with Singer's customary brio. (Here's a comical snapshot of a shyster named Hertz Grein: "His nose had a Jewish hook, but then had second thoughts and straightened itself out. His lips were thin, and his blue eyes revealed a curious mixture of bashfulness, sharpness, and something else that was hard to define. Margolin used to say that he looked like a Yeshiva boy from Scandinavia.") As the subplots pile up in an unruly heap, the novel sometimes reveals its installment-plan origins. Still, Singer puts his large cast through some wonderful paces, and the endless talk--for these are characters who truly come alive through the medium of rapid, contentious, Yiddish-accented conversation--allows the author to speculate about destiny, identity, and freedom without slowing his story a whit. As Singer said more than once, "Of course I believe in free will. Do we have a choice?" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Shadows on the Hudson was astonishingly difficult to read. I found myself profoundly depressed for the two weeks I spent reading this novel. It is dark, despairing, and hopeless.
The epilogue, however, makes everything clear. This is not so much a novel as a treatise on religion. This book demonstates why religion is an essential part of humanity, and also explains why Judaism is so unique.
This is a very important book.
The actors are good but they are overwrought - especially Julie Harris. She's not helped by the fact that almost every woman character declares imminent destruction without Grein coming to her rescue. Yet by the end when she says "Grein, if you don't come out I'm going to DIIIIEEEEEEEEE" for the 234th time if you're counting, you WISH that one of these characters would die.
This is one of Singer's EPIC books - meaning that he's writing about one family going away from Judaism, coming back to Judaism, having affairs. Only it's pretty standard fare. He's done it in early 19th century Poland with the Family Moskat. He did it again in late 19th century Poland with The Manor/The Estate (really one book) and now he's doing it in 1946 America. While you might enjoy some of this material - this is one where the narration serves to kill whatever value is in the story - and there's not much there. Maybe it suffers from the serialization. Singer had to repeat himself to keep his readers up to speed. So a character describing a scene that happened 300 pages ago (or 5 tapes back) is going to sound tedious because that character will provide no new insight.
My advice is to read either Satan in Goray or The Estate and the Manor together if you like Singer. Let us all forget about this awful clunker of a book - print or audio.
This sprawling book isn't sprawling because there's anything particularly deep or profound in its pages. Nothing much happens to the characters either. Instead it's sprawling in the same sense as Urban Sprawl. Singer allows his characters to whine incessantly about their lousy lot in life. Like The Estate (a much better book by far) his characters are great thinkers in many ways but utterly clueless about their own pettiness. They complain. They contemplate suicide. THey think deep thoughts about everyone around. They keep contemplating suicide long after the reader wants them dead and buried because then at least there'd be one less whiner.
The opening chapters have Anna and Grein running off together and forsaking their spouses. Pretty soon you realize that you are trapped with these two vindictive shrews and boredom sets in. Sadly after boredom comes nothing more than more boredom. Anna is superficial. Grein is a weakling. And on and on and on it goes. When other characters finally come into the frame you find them almost as tedious. They have been infected with the same malaise.
The one bright spot is Anna's first husband - a German comedian that came to America via Communist Russia and long thought dead. As soon as he enters the book you breathe a sigh of relief because at least this character is self-deprecating and able to laugh at himself. Unfortunately he disappears again in favor of an awful fake seance and he comes back rarely. The rest of the characters hate him with good reason - he's too good for them.