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 himself always in need of five zlotys, he introduces Aaron to Betty Slonim and Sam Dreiman, who have come to Poland in search of a play. Betty is a minor actress, but Sam wants to make her a star. To achieve this end, he is prepared to rent a theater in Warsaw and commission a play. He chooses Aaron as his dramatist when he learns that Aaron already has written the first act of a play about a nineteenth century woman who becomes a Hasidic rabbi. For his efforts, Aaron receives regular and generous advances. Aaron’s dramaturgical abilities are not great, though, and he suffers further from the assistance of Betty, Sam, and other members of the proposed cast. The result is an unproducible piece that fails in rehearsal.
Aaron’s association with Betty Slonim leads to more than a botched play, though. When he is not writing—which seems to be most of the time—he often serves as Betty’s lover and tour guide. On one of their excursions, Aaron takes her to see his old street, which he has not visited in twenty years. There he finds Shosha; she has hardly changed, remaining essentially a child both mentally and physically. Inexplicably, he falls in love with her, and after the failure of his play, he moves in with Shosha and her mother, severing his ties with his former associates and with the members of the Writers’ Club.
With Sam Dreiman’s blessing, Betty offers to marry Aaron and take him to the safety of America. Although he realizes that to stay in Poland is to invite death at the hands of the Nazis, he rejects her offer. Instead, he resolves to marry Shosha and remain in Warsaw.
Again war comes, and again Aaron’s life changes. He flees Warsaw with Shosha, but she is too frail to survive the ordeal; two days out of the capital, she dies. Dora Stolnitz vanishes, and Betty commits suicide. Aaron reaches America through the Orient and becomes a successful writer, but he remains haunted by his past.
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.
(The entire section is 1,346 words.)