The only child of Reb Shmuel Leib Broder of Tzivkev, Herman studies philosophy in Warsaw. There he meets the daughter of the rich Reb Shachnah Luria, Tamara, who is studying at the Wszchnica. Despite their parents’ objections, the two marry, but they quickly begin quarreling and are separated, about to be divorced, when World War II breaks out.
During the war, Yadwiga, a Polish peasant who had worked as a maid for the Broders, hides Herman in a hayloft. At the war’s end in 1945, he learns from eyewitnesses that Tamara and their two children have been killed by the Nazis. He marries Yadwiga, and together they move to Brooklyn, close to Coney Island.
To support himself, Herman becomes a ghostwriter for Rabbi Milton Lampert, but he tells Yadwiga that he earns his money as a traveling bookseller. This lie allows him to spend nights with his mistress, Masha. Suspicious, bitter, and fearful, Masha wants Herman to divorce Yadwiga and marry her; she intends to divorce her unfaithful husband, “Doctor” Leon Tortshiner. When Masha tells Herman that she is carrying Herman’s child, he agrees to the marriage but not to the divorce.
To complicate Herman’s life further, Tamara appears in New York, the reports of her death having been premature. She was shot by the Nazis and her children were murdered, but she, like Herman and Masha, has survived. Although she has the most legitimate claim on Herman, she alone makes no demands. On the...
(The entire section is 473 words.)