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The Manor [Paperback]

Isaac Bashevis Singer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

March 15 1979
This novel portrays the difficulties encountered by traditionalist Jews coming to terms with the social changes that rocked Poland in the late 19th century. The central figure of the novel is Calman Jacoby, who stands between the old and the new, unable to embrace either whole-heartedly.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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From AudioFile

This is the story, perhaps even the saga, of a Jewish family in nineteenth-century Poland. In it are reflected many of the large movements of the time. Singer's writing is a relentless staccato of short, declarative sentences. Noah Waterman makes the worst of them by reading at a breathless, enervating speed with minimal inflection; however, his diction is amazingly clear. But this is a reading, not a performance. Those who believe that an audiobook should have minimal interpretative intervention from the reader may find this a model production. Those who enjoy oral performance are more likely to be disappointed. Waterman's particular skill and style would be more at home in nonfiction. J.N. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.0 out of 5 stars A manor of worship: to God or oneself? June 11 2004
By Avital
Format:Paperback
With the backdrop set during the late 1800s clash between the tradition and the renewal of Polish Jewry, Isaac Bashevis Singer introduces his novel, The Manor. A host of well developed characters represent the various paths taken in this historical time period. The story revolves around the manor, a residence meant to bring prosperity and the illusion of consequent happiness riches are expected to produce. Calman Jacoby, a spiritual and honest Jew, obtains the manor, and so begins a new phase of his life as a wealthy business man.
The Jacoby's have four daughters, and their stories show a different level of keeping, or rejecting, the traditions instilled in each by Calman. The relationships between characters, especially between the daughters and their husbands, are continually being tested. Singer explores how passion can lead one into irrational and blatantly immoral behavior. Loyalties are promised and broken and then reaffirmed again amidst affairs, lost belief in G-d, and renewed spirituality. The constant questioning thoughts of each character invokes conflicting feelings in ones own mind as to what is correct, and with which point of view Singer himself consents. The conflicts extend beyond what the characters actually think. Singer presents the beauty of certain scenes through metaphors and people's good deeds, only to contrast them to the mundane reality of others.
The novel is told in a refreshingly simple tone that is somehow able to communicate the characters' innermost feelings. Although I was surprised by the lack of communication among the daughters, I found The Manor to be an impressive book, one that incorporated historical fiction with exciting storylines, credible characters, and a theme that is still witnessed today: traditions clashing with the desire for progress.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A manor of worship: to God or oneself? June 10 2004
By Avital - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
With the backdrop set during the late 1800s clash between the tradition and the renewal of Polish Jewry, Isaac Bashevis Singer introduces his novel, The Manor. A host of well developed characters represent the various paths taken in this historical time period. The story revolves around the manor, a residence meant to bring prosperity and the illusion of consequent happiness riches are expected to produce. Calman Jacoby, a spiritual and honest Jew, obtains the manor, and so begins a new phase of his life as a wealthy business man.
The Jacoby's have four daughters, and their stories show a different level of keeping, or rejecting, the traditions instilled in each by Calman. The relationships between characters, especially between the daughters and their husbands, are continually being tested. Singer explores how passion can lead one into irrational and blatantly immoral behavior. Loyalties are promised and broken and then reaffirmed again amidst affairs, lost belief in G-d, and renewed spirituality. The constant questioning thoughts of each character invokes conflicting feelings in ones own mind as to what is correct, and with which point of view Singer himself consents. The conflicts extend beyond what the characters actually think. Singer presents the beauty of certain scenes through metaphors and people's good deeds, only to contrast them to the mundane reality of others.
The novel is told in a refreshingly simple tone that is somehow able to communicate the characters' innermost feelings. Although I was surprised by the lack of communication among the daughters, I found The Manor to be an impressive book, one that incorporated historical fiction with exciting storylines, credible characters, and a theme that is still witnessed today: traditions clashing with the desire for progress.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jews Are Bustin' Out All Over Dec 14 2004
By Robert S. Newman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Why should the Jews live in a narrow, religious world bound by myriad restrictions when all Europe is moving towards an industrial, modern future ? On the other hand, isn't leaving the guidance of one's own tradition, and walking on thin ice towards material and emotional satisfactions frought with dangers and fears ? As usual, Singer asks big questions in his novel and answers ambiguously. Readers have to look within themselves to divine the answers to such questions. Materialism and individual freedom offer rewards, but then so do spirituality and family ties.

Calman Jacoby takes over the management of a Polish manor after the failed revolt of 1863. He rapidly makes a success of it, becomes a capitalist, and willy-nilly moves away from maintaining the minute observations of Jewish tradition. Yet, he regrets this, he struggles to remain honest. When his wife dies, he marries an independent woman of dubious morals with an eye for the main chance. His eldest daughter marries the ambitious-but-traditional son of a local rabbi. Amother marries a no-count nobleman---son of the original manor owner---and lives a miserable life as an apostate to Judaism. Another marries a holy rebbe, leader of a Hasidic sect. The fourth weds a man who chooses rationalism and science over the mysticism and superstition of the village Jewish community. She cannot keep up with him. How can Jacoby deal with the stress of such transformations in traditional Jewish life ? While some men strive in the world of old, Talmudic scholarship, serving as guides to the gullible poor, speak only Yiddish, and shun contact with outsiders, others begin to shave, wear European clothing, eat non-kosher food, and associate with women outside the family. New political ideas appear and shake old certainties. Singer traces the tensions and upheavals in families who live in times of rapid transition from one kind of society to another.

Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" and other novels can be related to THE MANOR, but a lot of African and Asian literature deals with the same theme, as does the literature of Native Americans. Singer's version is rich, rewarding, and full of poetic description. Perhaps, with so many characters, THE MANOR is more diffuse than some of his other novels, but most of them are vivid and well-developed. As always, he brings the lost world of the Eastern European Jews alive. It will live forever in these pages, as long as people read books or want to know what people once lived and struggled in Poland.

Singer wrote many novels set in different times---from "Satan in Goray" (1600s) to "The Slave" and "The Magician of Lublin" and "The Family Moskat"---as well as "Enemies, a Love Story" set in post-war New York, after the Jewish world was destroyed. THE MANOR is yet another jewel set in the necklace of his work.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Building Independent Nations Requires Independent People Dec 23 2003
By Sponiatowski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"The Manor" is a difficult novel to enjoy but is a realistic depiction of the lives of Jews amongst Gentiles in 19th century Poland. Poland at this time was partitioned by Prussia, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Polish Count of "The Manor" in the title, has been exiled to Siberia for participating in a Polish rebellion against Russia. A Russian Duke confiscates all his property. Calman Jacoby has frequently traded with the Count and he leases the property from the duke, taking a small shack for himself on the property while allowing the Countess and her daughters to remain living in The Manor. The disasters that befall Calman from that point forward make up the body of the novel.
When the Polish Count and his son, Lucian, return from Siberia, they are disillusioned and debauched beyond repentance. Lucian, a handsome rogue, seduces and elopes with Calman's favorite daughter, Miriam Leiba. They flee to Paris where they reside in filth while Lucian cuckolds Miriam Leiba continuously. Upon their return to Poland, a murder lands Lucian in prison. Miriam Leiba becomes a lush, loses the custody of her children to Lucian's sister, and contacts tuberculosis.
In the meantime, the Count sets up residence with a Russian woman he brings from Siberia, shortening the life of his wife, the Countess, by several years. Calman loses his own wife around the same time. She had been a bitter but responsible woman who failed to enliven Calman though she attended to his every need...except one. Calman marries again, believing himself in love with Clara, a rich, fashionable, society woman. She is beautiful and appeals to Calman's senses but she is reckless and pressures him to evict the Count and his Russian concubine. She is pregnant and fancies residing in The Manor after she updates it to her liking. The peasants see negative omens in the sky when Calman moves into The Manor, but they don't protest because the Count was oppressive. The son Clara delivers to Calman in the Manor is a monstrous brat that engenders feelings of shame rather than that of love.
Shortly thereafter Clara begins an affair with Zipkin, a university student with communist leanings. Affairs have become "fashionable" with her "in-crowd". She hires her lover as a governor and tutor for Calman's rebellious son and moves him into the Manor until Calman, always suspicious but never officially exposing her, becomes uncertain of the parentage of Clara's second pregnancy and throws Zipkin out. Then he leaves The Manor himself, opting for a religious life in the Shtetl of his youth. He is done with "The Manor" forever, prefering to be a tenant of someone else than Lord of The Manor. He claims that as a tenant "God watched over him" and as a Lord, he was in over his head.
In my opinion, the characters in the novel are overly concerned with marriage and sex, so much so that every fatal mistake is attributable to their choice of spouse or lover. If each had spent time alone to develop self-sufficiency and notice it in others or enjoyed some form of useful trade, many of their personal disasters wouldn't have happened or could've been prevented. That they all end up dissatisfied, unhappy, in prison or in retreat is a logical outcome of their emotive, irrational decisions. Only Calman, the only character engaged in useful trade, realizes what has caused his problems and by the end of the novel he is consciously working to repair his soul. The other characters fade off the pages in ignominy, victims of their dreams and own irresponsibility.
The building of an independent country, an issue uniquely applicable to these two nations, requires the full development of its people to create, defend and inhabit that new nation. Any nation is doomed to fall like a "House of Cards" (which The Manor comes to symbolize) when emotion is placed above reason. What Isaac Bashevis Singer shows us in this unhappy tale will help all who read it to understand why this must be so.
"The Manor" is a worthwhile if not enjoyable read and needs more exposure through a new reprint.
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