Isaac Bashevis Singer (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Janet Hadda begins her biography in 1911, when Isaac Bashevis Singer was seven years old. In this year his older sister, Hinde Esther Singer, became engaged and prepared to leave Warsaw, Poland, for Antwerp, Belgium. To console himself for the imminent loss of his sister, Singer took pieces of paper from his father’s desk and began to scribble. For Hadda, this episode indicates Singer’s motivation for writing: to escape “rejection, depression, and hysteria.” Because she regards Singer’s early life and family as crucial to his development as a writer, she describes Singer’s boyhood world of 10 Krochmalna Street in some detail, drawing heavily on Singer’s own writings. Although located in a city, this Jewish neighborhood was another version of the Jewish shtetl, or village, with peddlers and pickpockets, children playing in the courtyards, and people coming to consult Singer’s father, Pinkhos Menakhem, the local unofficial rabbi who refused to learn Russian and so could not receive government certification. Pinkhos Menakhem came from a family of Chasidim, a division of Judaism that Hadda aptly describes as “ecstatic, mystical, and hierarchical.”
His wife, Basheve Zylberman Singer, was the daughter of the rabbi of the village of Bilgoray, a misnaged who opposed Chasidism. Husband and wife were opposites in many ways: Where Pinkhos was compassionate, Basheve could be cold; where Pinkhos believed in the inexplicable, Basheve was a...
(The entire section is 1967 words.)
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Isaac Bashevis Singer (Magill Book Reviews)
According to biographer Janet Hadda, Isaac Bashevis Singer and the media collaborated to produce a portrait of a man “winsome and naive.” Thus, the NEW YORK TIMES’ report of Singer’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech ignored the literary allusions that ranged from Plato to Israel Joshua Singer and instead concentrated on his statements about the humility of Yiddish and of those who use that language. Similarly, THE JEWISH WEEK-AMERICAN EXAMINER for October 15, 1978, reported that Singer had “been a vegetarian since his early youth,” though in fact he did not stop eating meat until late in life.
The reality that Hadda paints of Singer in ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER: A LIFE differs markedly from the charming image in most people’s minds. Hadda notes that the Singer who wrote such charming books for children had no contact with his own son for twenty years. Singer also remained aloof from his sister, cheated on his wife, and was often at odds with his literary mentor, who was also his older brother. Singer appears as an ignored, unhappy child who later married a woman who did not share his language or background; he is an unhappy man who sometimes used the image of a pig as his signature.
A psychologist, Hadda insightfully examines the implications of the various names that Singer used as a writer: Bashevis, Isaac Singer, Y. Varshavsky (i.e. Y from Warsaw), D. Segal, Yitskhok Bashevis. As a professor of Yiddish, Hadda offers useful commentary...
(The entire section is 393 words.)