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Singer probes the human condition in novels about a seventeenth-century Jewish youth sold into slavery, a Holocaust survivor and the women in his life, and Warsaw Jews during Hitler's climb to power The Slave, set in 17th-century Poland; Shosha, a depiction of Warsaw's Jewish community on the eve of the Holocaust; and Enemies, a Love Story, which takes place in Brooklyn during the wake of WWII, are the three novels that make up this deeply affecting collection.
From the rabble to the rabbis, Singer brilliantly evokes a tiny village and its citizenry in The Slave. He draws aside the curtain of space and time to reveal rich textures and unforgettable personalities. No sooner have you tasted the groats and potatoes than you witness the struggles that underlie each of his novels. Singer called his characters "victims of their own personalities and fates"; they are characterized by a strong sense of fatalism and alternating urges to fight or surrender to destiny, or God's will.
Singer's work reflects decades of deep yearning to comprehend and serve God, and the rational, selfish backlash that can arise in modern man when God remains mute. His stories are deeply personalized, revolving around one man's experiences and elevating what would otherwise be merely interesting philosophical prose to impassioned, wrenching, beautifully crafted masterpieces. The author definitely doesn't shy away from examining all of a person's thoughts and being, from the lofty to the crass, under the same harsh light. Desire clashes with duty, destiny wrestles against freewill, and logic spars with spirituality. For some readers, his constructs are too strong, too affecting: some Orthodox Jews consider his work so tainted that they won't touch it. Others call it a mockery of Jewish culture, or take umbrage at his depictions of women as hapless idiots, selfish sirens, or screeching nags. But are the conflicts within Singer's characters really so grotesque and profane, or are they simply what make them human? --Jhana Bach