Last Updated on May 16, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592
In My Father’s Court is the first of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s three volumes of memoirs, published over a span of nearly two decades. Taken together they comprise a record not only of the surface facts of Singer’s life, from his formative years in Poland through his period of adjustment to a new life in the United States during the mid-1930’s, but of his inner life as well. Although Singer includes bits of family history, such as the marriage of his parents, which predate his own birth, the bulk of In My Father’s Court chronicles his boyhood and early adolescence, culminating in his first stirrings of sexual desire at the age of fifteen. While much of A Young Man in Search of Love (1978) is concerned with its author’s many sexual adventures, Singer also tells about the early strivings for artistic expression that led to his first novel, Sotan in Goray (1935; Satan in Goray, 1955). This second volume of memoirs ends with Singer’s decision to emigrate to the United States in 1955. Lost in America (1980) takes up the story immediately after his arrival and recounts the loneliness, alienation, poverty, and writer’s block of his first years in the United States, years of nearly suicidal despair that constituted the darkest period of Singer’s life.
As is his custom in most of his fiction and nonfiction, Singer prefaces In My Father’s Court with a note in which he speaks of the genesis and purpose of the work. The idea of writing his recollections of his father’s rabbinic court (beth din), which had been with him from early youth, first took published form as a series in the Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish-language periodical in which most of Singer’s work is originally serialized. Written under the byline of Isaac Warshawsky, his journalistic pseudonym, the series was released in book form under his real name (a signal that it is to be taken seriously) because its pieces added up to a portrait of “a life and environment that no longer exist and are unique.” To preserve the memory of a people and a world is the stated purpose of nearly all Singer’s writing. This explains his habitual literary strategy of turning his Yiddish serials, directed to the shrinking readership of the Jewish Daily Forward, into the more permanent form of English books with vast potential circulation.
Despite its familiar aim and subject matter, In My Father’s Court is viewed asin a certain sense a literary experiment. It is an attempt to combine two styles—that of memoirs and that of belles-lettres—and its approach to description and its manner of conveying situations differ from those used in my other writings.
The 307 pages of In My Father’s Court are divided into forty-nine vignettes, each ranging from five to eight pages. While the organization is loosely chronological, it is at the same time deliberately episodic, shaped as often by its boyish narrator’s random recollections as by the strict order of its events. Although its first-person narrative is largely confined to young Isaac’s immediate field of perception, In My Father’s Court also contains references to events prior to his birth as well as the mature author’s reflections upon the significance of what his youthful persona has witnessed. The controlling presence of this omniscient author is everywhere apparent. Singer attempts to mimic neither childish behavior nor childish diction. No matter the narrator’s age, his voice is generally that of a mature observer and recorder.
Last Updated on May 16, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 61
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