Bernard Malamud readily acknowledged that The Fixer is a fictionalized adaptation of a notorious historical event. Jewish brick factory manager Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a twelve-year-old Christian boy and of draining the boy’s blood for use in making matzos for Passover. The arrest took place in 1911 in Kiev, and for two years afterward, while the Russian authorities strove to manufacture a believable case against Beilis, the accused languished in jail. A public outcry arose, both inside and outside Russia, at the spectacle of a state system of justice relying, for its case against a Jew, on an absurdly superstitious legend, circulated by anti-Semites, that Jews practiced ritual murder. When Beilis was finally brought to trial in 1913, the court returned a verdict of not guilty.
Malamud takes several significant liberties with the historical truth. For example, Malamud’s victim is a handyman, unlike Beilis, and the owner of the brick factory where Yakov Bok is employed is a Christian anti-Semite, rather than a Jew, as was Beilis’s boss. It is far more important to note how closely Malamud adheres to the main facts of the historical case. One of the finest achievements of the novel is the care and accuracy with which it evokes the atmosphere of czarist Russia in the years before World War I, including the restricted life imposed upon Jews and the horrors of its inhumane prisons and system of justice. As literature The Fixer is, more than anything else, a vivid exercise in historical realism. About three-fourths of the novel focuses on detailed description of what Yakov Bok endures at the hands of prosecutors and prison officials.
An essential feature of the novel is that, while the novel is a third-person narrative, Malamud...
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