"Open one of his books anywhere," Joyce Carol Oates says, "the words leap out with a power that would seem to us demonic if it were not, at the very same time, so utterly plausible." Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories are filled with temptation: the lure of power and money, the demands of lust and obsession. He wrote about ghosts, demons and spectres; but he also makes us believe. Perhaps anything is possible.
Then, those fantastic tales begin to seem almost ordinary. The plot draw you in. They're stimulating and fascinating--even funny--as those hosts of Tricksters, innocents, whores and fools march across the stage of these made-up settings. It takes all kinds, as Singer explores the often-brutal realities of humanity.
Now, as part of the Isaac Bashevis Singer Centennial, Library of American presents this comprehensive three-volume collection, which features nearly 200 of Singer's stories--including a number of previously uncollected stories. "Gimpel the Fool," which first catapulted Singer to fame, is published in the first volume, along with "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," which became a Broadway play and film, starring Barbara Streisand. In "Gimbel," we get the famous line: "No doubt the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the true world."
In the second volume, there's "A Friend of Kafka," where Kafka believes in the golem, and "There must be magic words that can turn a piece of clay into a living being. Also featured in the second volume is a story about a witch transformed into a beauty, a piece about a "night of miracles," and a tale of a couple who dances until the building falls down on them. In his semi-autobiographical "A Day in Coney Island," we read: "Every time, the figures come out different. As my game with the powers on high stood now, I seemed to have won a dollar and some cents and to have lost refuge in America and a woman I really loved."
Even in the third volume, there's "The Power of Darkness," where Mother says: "The living die so that the dead may live." And, in "The Mathmetician," the rabbi of Kock says, "There are many deep wells, but the well of madness is the deepest of them all." How does madness figure into all of this? What of demons, spirits, and lovers? And, what about Singer's life?
Illustrating a Life
Born in Poland in 1904, Isaac Bashevis Singer emigrated to the United States in 1935, and became an American citizen in 1943. He is the only Yiddish writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and is one of the most important Jewish-American writers of the 20th century. To offer some perspective on Singer, a photographic guide, entitled "Singer: An Album," accompanies the three volumes to illustrate Singer's life and works--with pictures, graphics and tributes. As Max Rudin explains, "This volume attempts to tell what is known, to help the reader put Singer's imaginative work in an accurate and carefully documented context."
In a life that seems so full of tragedy, he brought magic to his stories, even if the outcomes were sometimes horrific. And, there is simple compassion and love. There's the lines from "Seance": "There is no death, there isn't any. We live forever, and we love forever. This is the pure truth." With these stories, Singer makes poingnant statements about the world around him. They are his own brand of immortality--forever remembering the pain, passion, tragedy, and triumphs--all that was Isaac Bashevis Singer.