Isaac B. Singer: A Life review

Isaac Bashevis Singer had so many identities it is difficult to contain all of them in a single biography. A Pole who emigrated to America, he is all but dismissed in his homeland. Descended from seven generations of rabbis, he embraced a secular lifestyle. A champion of the Yiddish language, he was rejected by the traditional Yiddish community. Singer wrote his stories in Yiddish then rewrote them in English, creating two distinct works rather than a set of translations. It would seem appropriate to write his biography in two volumes in order to capture the duality of his nature. Isaac B. Singer: A Life by Florence Noiville (Northwestern University Press, $14.95) is a single volume, and a slender one at that, but there is a disjointed feeling to the book. That may be attributed to Noiville or Catherine Temerson, who translated the book from French, or it may be the paradoxical legacy of Singer himself. This is not a concise analysis of Singer’s life and writing; readers interested in such critical writing should read Jonathan Rosen’s article in the June 7, 2004 issue of The New Yorker instead. This is a book for the reader who is interested in another perspective on an author so unique that no comprehensive interpretation of his life can be written by mortal hands!

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