(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

With Enemies: A Love Story, Singer entered a new phase in his literary career. This was the first of his novels to use the United States as its setting and also the first in which almost all of the characters were Holocaust survivors. Of all his novels, Enemies is probably the most complex, at least where tone is concerned. On one hand, his survivors are so haunted by their memories of the death camps, so tormented by guilt because they survived, and so tortured by their loss of faith, that they seem more dead than alive. This is the stuff of tragedy.

At the same time, Enemies has all the elements of a classical farce. The characters engage in self-dramatization and verbal exaggeration. They shout and throw things. Moreover, the central character, Herman Broder, is a trickster like the scheming servants in the witty plays of the English Restoration period. Because Broder has very little control over his life, he achieves his goals through trickery. He invents elaborate falsehoods in order to conceal his actions from his employer, his girl friend, his mistress, and his wife, even from casual acquaintances. As his affairs become more and more tangled and his lies more and more complex, the pace of the novel becomes increasingly hectic until the inevitable happens: Broder’s victims meet, compare notes, confront him, and combine against him.

The most accurate classification of Enemies would be as a...

(The entire section is 490 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a summer morning, Herman Broder stirs from his troubled dreams, wondering if he is in Nazi-occupied Poland, perhaps in the hayloft where his parents’ servant girl, Yadwiga, concealed him in order to save his life. Then, fully awake, he realizes that he is in the apartment in Brooklyn that he shares with Yadwiga, whom he marries after learning of the deaths of his wife and his children.

Herman tells Yadwiga that he must make another of his overnight train trips to sell books. Actually, he remains in New York City, spending the day in the office of Rabbi Milton Lampert, for whom Herman works as a ghostwriter, and the night at the apartment of his mistress, Masha Tortshiner, and her mother, Shifrah Puah Bloch, who are also Holocaust survivors. Although Masha knows that Herman is married, her mother does not. She is determined to have Masha get a divorce from her husband, Leon, so that she can marry Herman.

One day, Shifrah Puah calls Herman’s attention to a notice in the newspaper asking him to telephone a certain number. When he makes the call, Herman finds himself speaking to the uncle of his first wife, Tamara, who, it seems, is alive and in New York. When Herman and Tamara are reunited, he is surprised to find her prettier than ever and considerably easier to get along with than she was in the past. Although Herman knows that he must choose between his two wives, he has to admit that he would like to keep them both, and the volatile Masha as well.

Herman’s trips to see Tamara arouse Masha’s suspicions, even though she does not guess that Herman’s first wife has come back from the dead. Herman thinks he might be able to reassure Masha about his feelings for her during a vacation in the Adirondack Mountains that they are planning. At first, they do relax and enjoy themselves, but then Masha tells Herman that she is pregnant. Taken by surprise, Herman rashly promises to marry Masha.

Blithely ignoring the fact that Herman is already married, which, after all, involves only a mere Gentile, Masha works on getting a divorce. Meanwhile, Herman’s other two relationships with women are becoming even more complicated. On an outing in the Catskill Mountains, he and Tamara, who were merely friends, find themselves making love and enjoying it. Then, Yadwiga decides that she can become closer to her husband if she converts to...

(The entire section is 969 words.)