Overview (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
The Fifth Son describes a journey into the past, a pilgrimage that leads the narrator, the son of Holocaust survivors, to an understanding of his father. Although written from the narrator’s point of view, the novel has three other voices: Reuven Tamiroff, the narrator’s father, whose reminiscences and letters provide glimpses of a tortured man; Bontchek, another survivor, whose recollections reveal more about Reuven; and Simha-the-Dark, also a survivor, who finally unlocks Reuven’s past.
The novel begins with the narrator’s dream; in Reshastadt, he sees his father, who tells him that the trip to Germany is a mistake. The dream fades, and the narrator begins to piece together twenty years of reminiscences about his attempts to understand his father’s silence.
As the narrator assembles the vignettes about his life, he remembers his father as silent and his mother as an unhappy woman who withdrew into a private world when he was only six. He is reminded of a Passover during which Simha demanded that Reuven remember his duty to the living. Simha then told the folktale about the four sons and The Question. The first son knows and assumes The Question, the second knows and rejects it, the third is indifferent to it, and the fourth is ignorant of it. The fifth son, not mentioned in the tale, is gone.
Few vignettes involve Reuven’s descriptions of his own life, but the narrator recalls that Bontchek “brought to life...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
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