Was Isaac Bashevis Singer really so universally beloved a writer among the Yiddish community, as he implies over and over in every one of his semi-autobiographical short stories? There were heaps of Yiddish writers in the twentieth century, apparently — it’s not like people gravitated to Singer because he was the only one who could scratch that particular itch.
Yet, if I had a kopek for every self-narrated story in which a character says to him something along the lines of “’Oh yes, I found your stories in the Yiddish journal, and now my husband and I read your writing aloud to each other before going to bed,’” or “’One time I borrowed a book of yours from the library and after that I became a reader of everything you write,’” or “’My son reads you; you are his beloved writer,’” then I would have a sizable pile of kopeks, and it would be pretty inconvenient because I wouldn’t know what to do with them. What’s the kopek-to-dollar exchange rate these days…
If Isaac Bashevis Singer was ever approached by a member of the Yiddish intellegentsia who then spit on him and shrieked, “Your fiction is fit for nothing but pigs!” we will never hear of it, apparently — at least, not in Singer’s fiction.
But, you know, when I finished with the two story collections by Singer that I’d checked out from the library (Short Friday and A Crown of Feathers, respectively), I called up my grandmother and I told her, “I’ve been reading this person named Isaac Bashevis Singer, did you ever come across his stories, does his name ring a bell?” And she said, “yes, yes, I read him in the Russian translation! I spoke Yiddish, you know, I learned it around the house. But I never learned to read it. My father tried to teach it to me, but he couldn’t spell for shit, so I gave up in exasperation after the first few so-called lessons. But I loved Singer’s stories in Russian. And your grandpa, he adored his stories, in both Yiddish and Russian. Yura! Yura! You remember Singer? Isaac Bashevis Singer?” (Background sounds of my grandpa getting very excited and shouting.) “Yes, Singer! Ah, your grandpa loved his stories, he would reread them many times, he carried Singer’s books with him whenever we traveled,” et cetera et cetera et cetera.
Despite this worrisome bleed of Singer’s fiction into my personal reality, I will admit that the collections I read were pretty damn good, and especially relevant to my particular bundle of curiosities. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Plus, he did some terrifically interesting things with various short story forms here and there, and as you know, that always gets me very excited and shouting.
P.S. According to Radish, it looks like 6,300 kopeks = 1 dollar, so in other words, I would have three dollars.