Although Isaac Bashevis Singer emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1935, the circumscribed world of the Polish Jews remained at the heart of his imagination. Beginning with his first major work, Satan in Goray
(1935), he used the life of the shtetl
as raw material, transforming its folkways, religious practices, superstitions, and sexual habits into superior works of art. From time to time, however, Singer turned his eye upon New World Jews like himself, recording their rapid or reluctant assimilation into the American mainstream. One such book is Shadows on the Hudson
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?"
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From Library Journal
Originally published serially in Yiddish in The Forward, this novel by Nobel Prize laureate Singer relates the lives of Jewish refugees in New York City just after World War II. Wealthy and religious Boris Makaver is challenged by the scandal created when his daughter Anna abandons her second husband, an unemployed lawyer, for a friend of the family, Grein. The latter is torn by his inability to resist the romantic demands of three women (his wife, his long-time mistress, and Anna) and his attempts to return to the religious faith of his father. The lingering effects of the losses in the Holocaust and the influence of communism and godlessness combine with staged seances and the reappearance of Anna's unsavory first husband to provide much spiritual searching. This major novel is a welcome addition to the Singer library. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-?Ann Irvine, Silver Spring Lib., Md.
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