I’m not sure what to think – it’s a powerful book, based on a historical event but not something which would be written this way today – I don’t think – it’s pretty heavy handed although maybe considering the subject matter, it needs to be. .
Set in the final years of the Romanov Dynasty, 1905 – 1913, Malamud has presented a fictionalized version of the historical case of Menahem Beilis – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendel Beiles
by Bernard Malamud
1966 / 301 pages
rating – 8
With quite a lot of very real troubles, Revolution, war with Japan, agriculture, a viable heir to the throne, the Russian people and the regime of Tsar Nicholas II turned against the Jews
Yakov Bok, a general handyman (a “fixer”) is arrested and jailed for the Passover murder of a teenage boy – it’s about Blood Libel – Over the course of the book he is tortured, beaten, starved, sleep deprived, kept in solitary confinement, etc. in order to make him confess. (And that’s as far as that goes without spoilers.)
The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 but I don’t know if I’m all that taken with it – what else was published that year that might have been deserving? –
The one thing it has going for it is the history behind the fiction however, considering how much Malamud changed from the Beilis memoir in terms of Yakov Bok and his family, who knows how much he might have changed re the imprisonment. Beilis’ family took Malmud to task for both plagiarism and defamation (I suppose you might call it).
“As the historian Albert Lindemann lamented, ‘By the late twentieth century, memory of the Beilis case came to be inextricably fused (and confused) with… The Fixer.’”
Still, Malamud is a great author – I’ve read The Assistant and probably something else – he keeps the tension up and the ideas flowing. Adding Spinoza and the New Testament was rather original and the way Bok ended up with the kind of seriously delusional thinking one might expect after a couple years in that kind of imprisonment and torture was well done. A couple of good plot twists, too.