(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The year is 1914. Aaron Greidinger, the seven-year-old son of a rabbi, lives in an apartment at number ten Krochmalna Street in Warsaw. Across the hall live Bashele and Zelig Schuldiener and their nine-year-old daughter, Shosha. Although Aaron is a prodigy of learning and Shosha is intellectually backward, he finds her attractive, and the Schuldieners’ apartment, as lavishly furnished as his own is sparse, becomes his second home.

This youthful idyll soon ends when the Schuldieners move to number seven Krochmalna Street, two blocks away. Under constant scrutiny because he is the rabbi’s son, Aaron no longer can visit Shosha. Other difficulties follow. World War I brings poverty and hunger, so that by 1917 the Greidingers are forced to move to Old Stykov in Galacia, where Aaron’s father and then his brother Moishe serve as rabbi.

While his family clings to traditional Judaism, Aaron does not. Impressed with the Haskalah, the Enlightenment, that comes to Poland with the war, he returns to Warsaw to earn his living as a writer. Here he begins an affair with Dora Stolnitz, a member of the Communist Party who regards the Soviet Union as the Promised Land. At the Writers’ Club he encounters the eccentric philosopher Morris Feitelzohn, author of Spiritual Hormones. At once lecherous, mystical, religious, and skeptical, he becomes Aaron’s spiritual and intellectual guide.

Morris also helps Aaron monetarily. Though he is...

(The entire section is 578 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shosha is a realistic novel that is undisguisedly based on Singer’s own life. The protagonist, Aaron Greidinger, is the son of a rabbi. Aaron’s younger brother is named Moishe. The family even lives first at the actual address of the Singer family in Warsaw, number 10 Krochmalna Street, then later in rural Galicia. Like Singer, Aaron is an aspiring writer. He moves to Warsaw, becomes a proofreader and translator, and becomes involved with a Communist girl. In the 1930’s, like all the other Jews in Poland, he is living from day to day, waiting for Adolf Hitler’s invasion and probably for death.

There are, however, important differences between Singer’s life and that of Aaron. Perhaps the most crucial difference is that, in the novel there is no older brother to guide Aaron, to help him in his career, and eventually to make it possible for him to escape to America. In contrast, Aaron must rely on friends and lovers for affection, for companionship, and for encouragement. Shosha is really the story of how Aaron’s life and thought were influenced by his relationships with five women and one man.

The man is Dr. Morris Feitelzohn, a philosopher without a university, a nonstop talker with encyclopedic knowledge, and a noted lover of women, whom Aaron meets at the center of bohemian life in Warsaw, the Writers’ Club. Aaron’s discussions with Dr. Feitelzohn, who has an opinion on every subject, force the young man to think deeply. Furthermore, although Dr. Feitelzohn has no money and even borrows from the impecunious Aaron, he knows everyone. Several of his friends have an important influence on Aaron’s future.

One of these friends is Celia Chentshiner, the wife of a wealthy man who encourages her extramarital affairs as long as she continues to mother him. Aaron soon discovers that Celia’s only real interests in...

(The entire section is 768 words.)