Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739
In a note prefacing Lost in America, Isaac Bashevis Singer makes it clear that this book, and the two which preceded it, A Little Boy in Search of God and A Young Man in Search of Love, were not conventional autobiographies. Unlike most writers in this genre, who emphasize accuracy, Singer believed that it was more important to protect people with whom he had been involved in the past than to tell the whole truth; therefore, he changed names and omitted or altered events, much as a writer of fiction would do. Clearly, this is not the ordinary sense of the genre. In defining what he has produced, Singer terms his books fiction written with a basis in truth. What he means is that although many facts have been changed, the substance of his life during three decades is clearly reflected in these volumes.
Singer’s approach to autobiography is consistent with his approach to fiction because in both genres he emphasizes the interior lives of his characters more than exterior details and focuses on the ideas expressed by those characters more than on the events in which they participate. If a reader did not know that Singer’s autobiographies were based on the writer’s own life, he could easily mistake them for first-person novels. In tone and structure, the works are reminiscent of the nineteenth century novels which were such an important influence on Singer; in these autobiographies, as in Singer’s novels, are found the traditional introductory histories of characters, dramatic scenes with realistic dialogue, comic buildups of confusion or deception, and lengthy but fascinating digressions by the author.
The three volumes are roughly chronological. The first seven chapters of A Little Boy in Search of God take Singer from childhood through youth. In the five remaining chapters of the book, he is on his own in postwar Warsaw. A Young Man in Search of Love covers a much shorter time period, from Singer’s move to Warsaw in 1923 to the end of the decade. The final book, Lost in America, begins in the early 1930’s and ends perhaps a year after his move to the United States in 1935.
Nevertheless, both the book titles and the chapter divisions within each book reflect the fact that Singer was interested in probing his own intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development rather than in holding to a strict chronological organization. Thus although the later chapters of A Little Boy in Search of God describe Singer’s first love affair, the emphasis throughout the book is on the writer’s relationship with God, to which the love affair is incidental, while in A Young Man in Search of Love the relationships with women are central and the spiritual quest is secondary. Lost in America is the most complex of the three books, for in it Singer examines the effect of society on human relationships and on man’s relationship with God. The title reflects Singer’s discovery that a man who has escaped from a land of terror to one of safety and freedom can still be unhappy, confused, and lost. Like his titles, Singer’s chapter divisions reflect his preoccupation with theme rather than with events. In the first book, for example, the initial chapter describes the religious environment in his home, the second, the suggestions about God and goodness in the cabala books which he found in his father’s library, and the third, Singer’s discovery of evil both in the discussions in those books and in his observation of everyday life.
In all the volumes, there are numerous paintings and drawings of individuals and groups of people. That the illustrations are considered by Singer to be an inherent part of his work is indicated by his listing the artist of those in the first volume, Ira Moskowitz, as a secondary author. Although the artist in the second and third books, Raphael Soyer, is not credited along with the author, his name is displayed prominently on the cover and the title page of both volumes. Because of their lavish illustration and their generously spaced print, the books are not as long as their page totals would suggest (206 pages, 177 pages, and 259 pages, respectively). Nevertheless, the philosophical questions which Singer considers are so profound, and his own thought processes so intricate, that each of his autobiographical books requires at least as much time to ponder as it does to read.
Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 54
Buchen, Irving. Singer and the Eternal Past, 1968.
Burgin, Richard. “The Sly Modernism of Isaac Singer,” in Chicago Review. XXXI (Spring, 1980), pp. 61-67.
Kresh, Paul. Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Magician of West Eighty-sixth Street, 1979.
Malin, Irving. Singer, 1972.
Malin, Irving, ed. Critical Views of Singer, 1969.
Singer, Isaac Bashevis, and Richard Burgin. Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1985.
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