The late Isaac Bashevis Singer was a storyteller of genius, and "A Crown Of Feathers", is one of his finest collections of short stories, and because of its variety, serves as a superb intoduction to this master storyteller. This was my first Singer book. I picked it up at a garage sale some time back after reading a brief synopsis of the book and a quote stating that Isaac Bashevis Singer is the "greatest writer alive today" (this edition of the book is quite old, as Singer died in 1991). The stories had two qualities which I found highly enjoyable. Firstly, Singer's combination of modern realism with Jewish folklore and fantasy is what first got me hooked, as I myself am Jewish and have a great interest in our religion, folklore and mythology. Secondly, the simple, direct style in which the stories were written. It was as if Singer himself was sitting in front of me telling a story. The book certainly did not disapoint and I finished it in a matter of days. It was such an enthralling read, that I raided most the second-hand book shops in the neighbourhood for Singer books. Now I have quite a large Singer collection of both novels and short stories - all of them works of art in their own right. This collection of twenty-four stories is varied - ghost stories, fables set in little Polish-Jewish villages and stories set in pre-World War II Warsaw and post-World War II New York. Although most of the stories have a distinctly Jewish flavour, many of the themes, including love, lust, politics, greed and family life are universal. Some of the tales end in twists, which can often leave you surprised or spooked, not that this is a bad thing, of course. My favourite stories are as follows: "A Crown Of Feathers" is a phantasmagoric tale of a young woman losing and then trying to regain her faith. It's full of witchcraft, sorcery and violent imagery and it might disturb the average reader on first reading, but it is a very moving and rewarding read. "Property" is an interesting look into the political theory of anarchism. "A Quotation From Klopstock" is a love story with a twist. "The Magazine" is all about holding on to dreams and aspirations and following them. These are just a few of the great stories included in this book. It is a shame that "A Crown Of Feathers and Other Stories" is now probably out of print, but have a look around for it, it will be well worth the search. I highly recommend this book.
Singer is a genius at creating tiny worlds, self-ecapsulated and yet part of a wider whole, as if subject to immutable laws of nature. You could argue that all of his characters are subtly different or that all of them are the same, so perfect is each world. There is also a unique mixture of realism and mysticism, the unseen world that operates behind appearences and yet is never fully explained. Simply brilliant. Highly recommended.
All these novels are so enthralling, the fine balance between wisdom and lack of progress in one's soul create tensions a prevailing anxiety and a continuous search for what is beyond what we see and what is all about after all. Laughter is not absent from these profound philosophical gems.