The nineteen stories of A Day of Pleasure do not provide a continuous, factually detailed account of Singer’s boyhood. Rather, they constitute a collection of mainly self-contained, but thematically related tales that, when taken together, form a literary autobiography aimed at young readers. Occasionally, the author may have creatively combined separate events into one, and in recalling years long past he has invented dialogues. As a whole, however, the book authentically reflects the external facts of Singer’s boyhood, as well as the truths of life that he discovered in growing up. While his stories are set in the distinct (and for many, unfamiliar) world of Orthodox Polish Jewry—which no longer exists—their human appeal and message are universal. Singer himself writes in his preface that he wished to reveal in his book a world little known to the reader “but which is rich in comedy and tragedy; rich in its individuality, wisdom, foolishness, wildness, and goodness.”
Singer recalls his growing-up years in Warsaw with deep affection. His family was poor and often unable to make ends meet, and their apartment, lit by a kerosene lamp, had neither hot running water nor a bathroom. In addition, his strictly religious parents did not indulge his endless curiosity about the workings of the world and the secrets of nature. Nevertheless, the boy’s imagination, the reader learns, was enriched by the varied, colorful stories that he heard at home from his parents, his older brother Israel Joshua, and his sister, Hinde Esther. He himself began inventing tales of a fantastic nature at an early age, and he told them to his friends at play and at religious instruction. Some of the stories incorporate these tales as dialogue....
(The entire section is 715 words.)
A Day of Pleasure won the 1970 National Book Award. Like all of Singer’s books, it memorializes the destroyed world of Polish Jewry. It introduces readers to the everyday life of this community, as well as to the religious and ethical values that shaped it. Thus, the book can serve as a historical source, providing insight into a culture that in significant ways is less foreign than it might appear to be. The outward manifestations of Hasidic Jewish life—the language, dress, schooling, and the strictest adherence to detailed religious law—may prove strange to most young readers.
These same readers, however, will find that they share key values with the boy Singer and with many of the figures that he describes. These values, which are ethical in nature, helped to establish norms for justice and injustice in Western civilization and thus to regulate private and civic life in its societies. Young adult readers may react sensitively not only to the virtues but also to the failings that Singer reveals in the figures from his past, and they will certainly reject the social injustices described in several of the stories. Drawing on their own experiences in coming of age, young readers will probably also empathize with Singer’s conflict between the traditions of his family and community and the personal freedoms offered by the modern secular world. Because of Singer’s rare storytelling skills, A Day of Pleasure may be assigned as reading for all young adults, as it can help to educate them in the ideals of cultural understanding and tolerance.