By Isaac Bashevis Singer, Goodreads Press, February 9, 2021, 0374265801
As a Jew growing up in NY, I had heard of Isaac Bashevis Singer. He was one of the great Jewish writers. The Slave is the first book I have read by him.
I related to the story of the suffering Jew. We Jews suffer. In some ways we live through suffering. The protaganist in The Slave did, too. He suffered in many ways: being a slave, falling in love with a non-Jew, seeing her die, and sleeping on a stone pillow.
While the story is told in another time and place, it rings true. It’s amazing to me how much I related to the book, because I have lived a middle class life and have never really suffered the way the slave did. Yet, I relate, and for this reason the book was enjoyable in that weird way.
I came to the book through my cousin Richard Nagler’s book, My Love Affair with Miami Beach, which was cowritten with Singer. The book is full of beautiful and poignant photographs of the Jews of Miami Beach, where Singer lived some of the time, and wrote an article with the same title. The two books are similar in that they document the Jews, and they are different, in that Singer is speaking about his personal experience through his own voice in the book with Nagler.
Yet, there is this connection that speaks to me, a Jew. If you are a Jew, you may enjoy these books. If you are not, you might learn something about being a Jew.
[k149] If the child died, they buried it in a ditch without Christian rites or else threw it into the mountain stream.
[k709] He himself killed nothing. It was one thing to slaughter an animal according to the law and in such a way as to redeem its soul, another to step on and crush tiny creatures that sought no more than man did–merely to eat and multiply.
[k2431] “Why do the Jews obey some laws and break others?” Sarah whispered.
[k2434] It’s easier not to eat pig than to curb your tongue.
[k3103] When a Cossack stops beating his wife, it means he doesn’t love her any more. He doesn’t beat her in private, but outside in front of everyone, and while he’s doing it, he talks to the neighbors. All the men have beards just like the Jews.
[k3136] They have everything there but salt and wine which are as expensive as gold.
[k4354] Jacob, who had his own ways of thinking and acting, who interpreted the Torah in his own manner, was accustomed to suspicion and mockery.
[k4355] Even as a child he had been a misfit.
[k4360] When he was sleepy, he would lie down in the sand, placing a stone under his head.