"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Friday, 2 July 2010

Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Vitamin Pills

Isaac Bashevis Singer said that he preferred to write in Yiddish because it was a language that contained more vitamins.  Reading his great saga of early 20th Century Polish Jewish life, The Family Moskat (1950) whose translation by A.H.Gross he personally supervised, I can't judge the quality of the Yiddish but it is certainly a powerful and absorbing read and, unlike some family historical sagas, you never get confused about who is who, thanks to Singer's gift for rapid thumbnail sketches of people and scenes.  I hauled this substantial book around with me on a recent trip to the USA and it made me realise that the realistic novel, sometimes thought to have been usurped by modernist experiment and innovation, still has a lot of life left in it.  Singer builds up a vividly felt picture of a world that was doomed as much by the forces of modernity unleashed within it as the external threat without.  It runs from the start of the 20th century to the rise of Hitler and is saved from any kind of romantic nostalgia for a lost culture by the fierceness and candour of its realism but nonetheless I still find it profoundly moving to reflect that this Jewish world of pre-war Warsaw no longer exists.

1 comment:

Carsten said...

Dear Dr. Murray,

I thank you very much for you work, which have been a very good benefit for me.

Hopefully, my work can also be of interest to you and many of your readers.

I just published the first biography on Felix Weltsch, closest friend to Max Brod and Franz Kafka - in German language.
Title: "Kafkas fast unbekannter Freund" (Koenigshausen u. Neumann)

All the best to yoour peojects,

Carsten Schmidt

Univ. of Potsdam, Germany