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Shadows On The Hudson [Paperback]

Isaac Singer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 25 1999
Serialized in the late 1950s, Shadows On The Hudson was translated from Yiddish and published posthumously as a complete novel in 1998, receiving widespread literary acclaim. From the Upper West Side to Miami's pastel resorts, Shadows On The Hudson traces the intertwined destiny of survivors in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer has created a vibrant, resonant, and provocative cast of characters in search of answers to life's greatest dilemmas, challenges, and ironies.

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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?" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Even worse than the print version Sept. 16 2003
Format:Audio Cassette
Using three narrators to tell the story might be a novel idea if they did it correctly. You'd think they'd use them like actors playing the different parts but instead they trade off so every one gets a few pages and then it goes away. Unlike the book where you can skip to the next chapter you never know when one of the characters is going to shut up so your finger is always on the fast forward button.
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Get me away from these whiners Sept. 11 2003
Format:Paperback
When I.B. Singer is good he's one of the best writers of the 20th century. When he's bad he's as self-indulgent as his characters.
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Flickering Shadows Sept. 19 2002
Format:Paperback
"Shadows on the Hudson", like Isaac Bashevis Singer, has passion, power and ultimately no faith in modern life. His lothario alter-ego Grein's adventure when he runs off with the married daughter of a friend, Anna, sends ripples through their whole social world, in which Singer paints the moral universe of post-war American Jewery. The Yeshiva trained doctor and friend of Anna's millionaire father takes back the German wife who left him for a Nazi. The Berlin Yiddish comedian Yasha Kotik, Anna's first husband, is beastly enough to survive both the death camps and Broadway. Grein's old Warsaw friend survived the camps to make a horrendous marriage with a battleaxe in Florida who tries to swindle Anna over real estate. ... But there is no escaping the sense of scenes written to a set word count, to be read on a subway train in slow columns from a smudging rag, and there is no escaping the sense of perfunctoriness at Singer's tying up of the loose threads at the end: Grein, like many of Singer's sinning alter-egos, winds up repenting, cutting off all links to his earthly life and loves, taking up Jewish study in a yeshiva. The rest he abandons, more or less moved on, no more resolved, because really the values Singer prized cannot exist for them. The penultimate line of the novel, in a letter from Grein's cell in Jerusalem: "There can be no connection between a bound animal and an animal that roams free." Singer was condemned to roam free, remembering a world that no longer exists and atoning for a family and life long gone, and this book does not return that world to us, though his wilder, more forlorn fiction does.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Work July 28 2002
Format:Paperback
This is a long, deep novel that deals with some of the fundamental problems of human existence. More than any other writer, Singer (at least in this book) reminds me of Dostoyevsky, whose characters were constantly in existentialist turmoil over questions such as good vs. evil and whether or not there is a God (and if there is, is He good, evil or indifferent?) Of course, while Dostoyevsky was a Christian, all of the characters in Shadows on the Hudson are Jewish holocaust survivors who have recently emigrated to New York from Europe shortly after World War ll. This is something that none of them can forget, even for a day, as many barely escaped while their loved ones perished. Beyond this confrontation with evil and death, the novel is largely about the philosophical war between religious orthodoxy and hedonistic modern life. Contemporary readers who do not come from a strongly religious background may have some difficulty appreciating this dilemma. The mass culture that Singer found vulgar and amoral in the 50s has now all but taken over in America, leaving many people no frame of reference for any other type of existence. While there is much philosophizing, Singer succeeds in creating flesh and blood characters whose moral anguish is not simply abstract, but put to the test in daily life. The character we spend the most time with is Hertz Grein, a middle-aged man whose religious yearnings are in stark contrast to his lifestyle. He is a married man who has had a long affair with another woman. As the novel opens, he is preparing to run off with yet another woman. Grein's behavior through most of this book is both irrational and indefensible. He lies to all three women, and makes all his decisions on the whim of the moment. At the same time, he is hardly without a conscience. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading.
While procrastinating over an essay that needed writing, I once reached for the nearest book on the library shelf. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003 by Benjamin c. Richards
5.0 out of 5 stars utterly astonishing
This book is an absolute masterpiece that clearly illustrates the genius of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Don't worry about the length - it's so absorbing and it has so much to say that... Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and Inspiring
I'm confused by the reviews complaining about this book's length, its subject matter, pace, characterization, etc. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2002 by Linda K. Crawford
2.0 out of 5 stars A story of the people who came to America in world war 2
This is not an easy reading book, is interesting in some parts and very boring in others, some part of the story could be real and some parts nobody will believe it, I think that... Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2002 by Jorge Frid
5.0 out of 5 stars one word: Masterpiece
There is not much more to say. Buy it. It is worth every penny. IBS is a genius of story telling. You will never forget this book.
Published on Sept. 16 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Singer's Stunning, Most Direct Comment on the Holocaust
Many have speculated why Singer left this novel untranslated into English for almost 40 years. Once you are into it, you will know why: this is the darkest thing he ever wrote. Read more
Published on Aug. 14 2000 by R. W. Rasband
5.0 out of 5 stars Fearlessly honest, even about fear; true, and beautiful
Shadows on the Hudson is one of the best novels I've ever read. The people are real--and thank god, they're deeply sexual and deeply intelligent. Read more
Published on June 2 2000 by Jamey Hecht
4.0 out of 5 stars Echoes Of The Holocaust
Although I agree with the criticisms made by other readers, I still loved "Shadows On The Hudson and consider it a worthwhile and engrossing book. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2000 by rachel s. levy
4.0 out of 5 stars Echoes Of The Holocaust
Although I agree with the criticisma made by other readers, I still loves "Shadows On The Hudson" and consider it a worthwhile and engrossing book. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2000
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