The Certificate

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In an afterword, translator Leonard Wolf (who has produced a very fluent rendering of Singer’s text) speculates that, while THE CERTIFICATE was published in Yiddish in 1967, it may have been written much earlier; to Wolf, the novel has the marks of a young man’s book. Unless Wolf has some evidence that he’s not sharing with us, however, his speculation would appear to be groundless, for THE CERTIFICATE could almost be called generic Singer, closely resembling earlier novels such as THE MAGICIAN OF LUBLIN and later ones such as ENEMIES and SHOSHA, and even more closely paralleling his memoirs A YOUNG MAN IN SEARCH OF LOVE (1978) and LOST IN AMERICA (1981).

If you’ve read Singer at all, you’ll recognize the plot of THE CERTIFICATE. The time is 1922. David Bendiger, eighteen going on nineteen, returns to Warsaw after an unsuccessful stint as a schoolteacher in the provinces. A fledgling writer, he has forsaken his Orthodox upbringing but not his passion for metaphysical speculation nor his awareness of unearthly powers. Quickly, as if by accident, he becomes embroiled in a scheme to obtain passports to Palestine for himself and a well-to-do young woman via a fictitious marriage. She is but one of three women with whom he is ambiguously and simultaneously involved.

Certainly it is all familiar. Is there any reason, then, to follow Singer’s telling of this story one more time with a slightly different spin? In this case the answer is emphatically yes. A few pages into the book, with David speculating about Spinoza and God and the nature of time while his shoes are being resoled, the reader will forget about earlier versions of this obsessively retold tale and give himself or herself over entirely to the dreamlike momentum of the narrative.