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The Magic Barrel. [Hardcover]

Bernard Malamud
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1958
One of the great story collections of our time-Winner of the National Book Award for fiction.

Bernard Malamud's first book of short stories, The Magic Barrel, has been recognized as a classic from the time it appeared in 1958. Malamud had published two novels, The Natural (itself a classic) and The Assistant, but in these thirteen stories he found the voice that eventually made him one of the most admired and beloved American writers of this century.

The stories are set in New York and in Italy (where Malamud's alter ego, the struggling New York Jewish painter Fidelman, roams amid the ruins of old Europe in search of his artistic patrimony); they tell of egg candlers and shoemakers, matchmakers and rabbis, in a voice that blends vigorous urban realism, Yiddish idiom, and a dash of Chagallish artistic magic.

In recent years, immigrant writers from around the world have acknowledged the book as a landmark in the literature of migration. Few books of any kind have managed to depict heartbreak with such delight, or such artistry-and it is these qualities that make The Magic Barrel so great and so deeply human a collection.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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No crude summary can convey the subtleties of these stories, in which the paradox of guilt and happiness, the irony of good intentions and all human struggles against suffering are suggested sometimes by a single poetic image, a juxtaposition of gross trivialities with romantic and mystical thoughts... He is not only an original but a passionately honest writer Times Literary Supplement His is a master of an alchemy whereby the grossest reality is converted to the most imaginative uses. He transcribes everyday life and yet the result glows with lights never seen on land or sea. New York Herald Tribune There are thirteen stoires in The Magic Barrel and every one of them is a small, highly individualized work of art. This is the kind of book that calls for not admiration but gratitude Chicago Tribune Funny and tragic and true to humanity New York Times Is he an American Master? Of course, he not only wrote in the American language, he augmented it with fresh plasticity, he shaped our English into startling new configurations. -- Cynthia Ozick --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Bernard Malamud wrote seven novels. His many awards include two National Book Awards, the Pulitzer Prize and the Gold Medal of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He served as president of the PEN American Center from 1979 to 1981, and taught for many years at Bennington College. He died in 1986. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Notes on a (Narrow) Slice of Life April 23 2003
So who could say that Bernard Malamud didn't write well ? Not me. He writes very well indeed. These 13 stories, mainly about first-generation Jewish immigrants in America, but also about visitors to Italy from America, capture so much of life in a society where one is an outsider---that feeling of "being here but not here", or of living in a country, but not belonging. The wasted ex-coffee salesman, the harassed landlord, the loner rabbinical student, they all seem to pulsate with failure, with uncertainty, and fatal mistakes. Ah, this is a book about life all right, but it's a book in which the vision is almost tunnel vision. Every single story, without exception, deals with people who cannot rise to their own imaginations of themselves. They meet frustration, failure, death or disappointment, they are deflected from any purpose they might have once had. They are melancholy shades of fruitless endeavor. Does even one reach his ambition ? (They are all male.) No, the student doesn't find a house in Rome, the would-be art critic abandons his research, the would-be lover lies about his Jewish origins and loses the beautiful girl, the buyer on credit never pays back, the so-called reader never reads, the shoemaker allows his daughter to marry an unsuitable man. Only once, after humiliating an angel to tears, does an old man admit his mistake and save his wife from death, and this occurs in the only fantasy among the thirteen. Most of the characters lose, their labors come to naught, they grow wiser, but sadder. I would assume that Malamud himself felt an outsider everywhere, comfortable nowhere. If that is not true, his dreams must have been filled with worry, because this is a most melancholy collection. Does anyone smile ? Does anyone laugh ? Read more ›
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This set of stories surprises one with breadth of understanding which it exhibits. From the first story ("The First Seven Years") which deals with a father's desire to provide the best for his daughter through the last story ("The Magic Barrel")which provides an interesting contrast to the first, all of these stories expand on the single theme of human experience.
The frustration built upon in "The Key" and "The Last Mohican" if offset nicely by the humor in "A Summer's Reading" and "The Lady of the Lake". "Take Pity" and "The Mourners" offer great insigth into growing old and dealing with lonliness. While "Angel Levine" is probably the most off beat of the set it still manages to increase hope, whereas "The Prison" causes an equal loss of faith in the human race.
The 12 stories here provide a wonderful evening's reading, however if your looking for more they are included in the books of his complete stories.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a sheer jewel May 21 1999
Since this book won the 1959 National Book Award, and I had not read it, I found a copy and was amazed at the power of the stories. I usually am not too enamored of short story collections, since I don't appreciate starting anew every few pages in a book. But this book is an exception. I was amazed at how quickly one became caught up in each story. The first story is The First Seven Years, and is a most touching story, setting the reader up most felicitously for enjoyment of each of the following 12 stories.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"The Magic Barrel" was a collection of stories that intrigued me, if only for the whimsical sounding name. I was disappointed, however, to find that the stories themselves were themselves not whimsical in the least. Malamud has created a world where paranoia is abundant, and worse, where poor, lackadaisical decisions are abound equally. There are no winners in any of Malamuds stories. I found myself becoming angry at the characters, for the way in which they responded to conflicts was alarmingly pathetic. His character development is strong, however, and I did enjoy maybe one or two of the stories until I found the ending rather dreary. If a literary work is "sad," that is not a deterrant for me. Malamud's characters, on the other hand, are hopeless. I can't seem to enjoy reading about people who operate in such ways.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange.... May 8 2004
By 5mollet
This is a very strange book. There are a lot of small messages that Mr. Malamud delivers in each of his stories. Everything from the mistreatment of others to stealing. He covers many different aspects of life that can help make people better citizens of the world.
I did not enjoy his style of writing though. It was dull, and very dry. There was no excitment in any of his stories and I found it hard to keep myself reading. I can see how somebody else might enjoy it though... if you're the type that likes dull, dry stories, Malamud is the guy for you.
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