Enemies: A Love Story Summary
by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Enemies: A Love Story Summary

(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 contrary, she attempts to help him.

At a party given by Rabbi Lampert, the secret of Herman’s three wives comes out. Masha leaves him, and he realizes that he can no longer work for the rabbi. Tamara finds him a job—as a bookseller. Her uncle, Reb Abraham Nissen Yaroslaver, wants to sell his bookstore and move to Israel,but no one will pay his price. Since he suspects that he may wish to return to America someday, he offers the bookstore to Tamara, who in turn offers Herman the chance to manage it.

Herman, however, cannot settle down. When Masha suddenly reenters his life, telling him that she is planning to leave for California the next day, he decides to join her. That very night, though, Masha’s mother, Shifrah Puah, dies. Herman wants to leave anyway, but Masha now insists on waiting until after the funeral. Herman leaves her and disappears from the world of the novel; Masha, having lost her only ties to life—her mother and Herman—commits suicide.

Yadwiga gives birth to Herman’s child, whom she names Masha. Mother and daughter move in with Tamara, who is managing the bookstore. Rabbi Lampert, a frequent visitor, tells Tamara that as a deserted wife she is free to remarry, but Tamara replies that she will keep faith with the feckless Herman.

Summary

(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:...

(The entire section is 1,932 words.)