Isaac Bashevis Singer, In My Father’s Court
After we had left Warsaw (during the First World War), we continued to hear news of him from time to time. One son died, a daughter fell in love with a young man of low origins and Asher was deeply grieved. I do not know whether he lived to see the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. He probably died before that. But such Jews as these were dragged off to Treblinka. May these memoirs serve as a monument to him and his like, who lived in sanctity and died as martyrs.
This is a memoir consisting of 50 or so short (6-8 page) vignettes on the author’s boyhood in Warsaw at No. 10 Krochmalna Street and in Bilgoray, a (patriarchal) world that has vanished. He includes accounts of his family and occasional adventures, but mostly he attends to the characters in his father’s court. The locals with their disputes would come to his Enneagram 5-ish rabbi who would adjudicate the antagonists. Our hero-narrator often is dismissed from the room, since the matter concerns grown-ups, but young Yitshok has a penchant for overhearing, spying, and keeping near a halfway open door. The irresistible Beth Din “was a kind of blend of a court of law, synagogue, house of study, and, if you will, a psychoanalyst’s office where people of troubled spirit could come to unburden themselves. “
Of course, one of the things that occurred to me in reading it is how Singer could remember with such specificity from a remove of sixty years. Of course, he couldn’t, he had to create it and make it up, i.e., voila, a fiction! Also, he wrote this pre-67, which occasioned the outbreak of loquacity about the Holocaust; this subject is handled here with restraint by several references to a character who ended up being “murdered by the Germans.”
Some themes I encountered previously chez Wiesel are here: the yearning for Palestine, the hoping in the Messiah, the Kabbalah, the 36 righteous, the never-forget-your-ancestors imperative. But unlike Wiesel’s world, this one teems with all kinds of characters and curses, not just sweet, pious Jews longing for the Messiah. Read the rest of this entry »