Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

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...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

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.