Artur Sammler, a seventy-six-year-old Polish Jew of British education and temperament living in New York. Sammler survived the Nazi mass murder of European Jews during World War II, crawling out of a mass grave and leaving the machine-gunned body of his dead wife behind. A tall, slender, and slightly stooped intellectual, Sammler observes the world with brutal clarity through one eye, the other having been crushed by a rifle butt during the war. Something of a voyeur, Sammler is fascinated by and yet highly critical of contemporary life and its barbarous, nihilistic, tragicomic, and sexually maladjusted ways. His encounters with a black pickpocket, a neurotic daughter, a dying friend, a strikingly sexual young woman, and a highly intelligent though fundamentally aimless young man become occasions for extraordinarily intense, private reflections on life on the planet.
The black pickpocket
The black pickpocket, a powerful, brutish, handsome, and elegantly dressed thief who works the Broadway bus between Columbus Circle and Seventy-second Street. Simultaneously fascinated and repelled, Sammler returns again and again to see the pickpocket at his work. Eventually, the pickpocket corners Sammler in the lobby of Sammler’s apartment building and exposes himself as a warning.
Angela Gruner, a voluptuous, sexually adventurous, provocatively clad young woman who tells Sammler all of her secrets. Deeply disturbing to both Sammler and her father, Elya, Angela provokes in these men intense reactions of anger and disgust in response to her powerful sexuality.
Shula Sammler, the daughter of Artur Sammler, reared in a Polish convent during the war and bearing the emotional scars of wartime experience. Eccentric, unkempt, and unpredictable, Shula is obsessed with trying to get her father to complete a memoir of H. G. Wells, whom Sammler knew in London before the war. As a part of this effort, she steals the manuscript of Dr. V. Govinda Lal so that her...
(The entire section is 853 words.)