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"A piercing work of fiction with a strong claim to being Singer's masterpiece" (Richard Bernstein, The New York Times), Shadows on the Hudson traces the intertwined lives of a group of Jewish refugees in New York City in the late 1940s. At its center is Boris Makaver, a pious, wealthy businessman whose greatest trial is his unstable daughter, Anna. A chain of events disrupts the lives of the close-knit community as each refugee struggles to reconcile the horrific past with the difficult present, as Singer explores both the nature of faith and the nature of love in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Review: 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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