Wednesday, June 18, 2008

a surfeit of persecution

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Challenge: A-Z (title)
Review: What a difficult book to read, and, I can only imagine, to write. We start with the injustice of poverty and lack of opportunity in the shtetl and move almost directly into a variety of unjust accusations leveled against Yakov Bok, who has become a scapegoat for all the imagined evil deeds of all the Jews in Russia.

Bok leaves the shtetl with hopes of a better life in Kiev. At first, things look up for him. Serendipity finds him a good job, and he is able to afford some books, and even put away some money. The catch is that he has to live in a district from which Jews are forbidden from living. All goes well, although Bok is not a popular figure, until a young boy is found murdered in a cave nearby.

The police show up at his door, arrest him, and summarily throw him in prison. Things go from bad to worse as he is forced to submit to increasingly cruel and dehumanizing treatment, not least of which is having to repeatedly listen to the many crimes he is supposed to have committed. But he steadfastly declares his innocence, and it is this that is supposed to make him one literature's greatest heroes. I'm not so sure about this, but certainly he is a strong character.

His strength almost makes this book harder to read, though. I found myself almost wishing he would confess, even though I knew he was innocent, just so the horribleness would end. But he and I both knew that confessing to a crime that he didn't commit wouldn't help at all, either his own dignity, or the plight of the Jews in Russia. So we endured together until the trial, to which Bok is on his way at the end of the book. At first I was disappointed that we don't find out what happens at the trial, but then I realized that the result of the trial isn't the point of the book. It's the persecution and the strength that it reveals that really matter.

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