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.
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
With quite a lot of very real troubles, Revolution, war with Japan, agriculture, 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 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 – and I don’t quite see how it fits the Americana idea behind the Pulitzers (but that’s changed and there are lots of Jewish people in the US).
The one thing it has going for it is the history behind the fiction, but still – considering how much Malamud changed from the Beilis memoir re the 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 were 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.
Interesting… this happens sometimes when you read old prize winners, you wonder, what were they thinking?
I think the way a story is written often teaches us as much about society at that time as it does about the society in which the story is set. (In thi scase, about mid-sixties American society as about Tsarist Russia.)
Absolutely, Debbie! Yes! I read classics to learn about the times they were written – like an artifact of another era.