Friday, August 27, 2010

The Brooch

Isaac Bashevis Singer (c. 1904–1991)
From Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories: Gimpel the Fool to The Letter Writer

Isaac Bashevis Singer emigrated from Warsaw to New York in 1935 in his early 30s, having already published several stories and one novel, Satan in Goray. After his arrival in America, he continued to write his original texts in Yiddish (publishing many in the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward) and later translated his stories into English, which he called his “second original language.” James Gibbons, in a biographical essay included in Singer: An Album, describes Singer’s unique, collaborative process of “translation”:
Excepting translators such as Joseph Singer, Mirra Ginsburg, and others, the collaborators identified in the translation credits to his stories and novels often did not know Yiddish. “I dictate to them in English, my English,” Singer described the process in 1975. “They polish my English.” . . . As all his bilingual readers and Singer himself conceded, much was lost in translation, but his efforts shaping his English translations gave them the authority of being parallel versions of his Yiddish texts, rather than merely diminished approximations of the originals.
The differences between the Yiddish and English versions of Singer’s stories are sometimes so substantial that they may as well be completely different stories. The jokes and wit, the puns and wordplay, scenes, dialogue, characters, and even some of the endings have been changed.

In either language, Singer allowed little to get in the way of his straightforward storytelling. Biographer Ben Siegel has noted that Singer “observes his struggling figures without intruding judgment or sympathy.” Explaining his technique in a 1968
Paris Review interview, Singer remarked, “When a writer tries to explain too much, to psychologize, he’s already out of time when he begins. Imagine Homer explaining the deeds of his heroes according to the old Greek philosophy, or the psychology of his time. Why, nobody would read Homer!” He expanded upon these comments in his acceptance speech for the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature: “The storyteller and poet of our time, as in any other time, must be an entertainer of the spirit in the full sense of the word, not just a preacher of social or political ideals.”

While Singer’s later stories often portray the new worlds he encountered in New York City, the Catskills, and Miami, the bulk of his fiction conjures the folktales and parables of his youth and evokes the
shtetls (villages) and towns in the Lublin region of Poland. “The Brooch” (from his fourth collection, The Séance and Other Stories), presents Wolf Ber, a caring and loyal father who happens to be a professional thief. Upon returning home to Kozlow for Passover, he has a sudden premonition. “Was Celia ill? Had something happened to the children? Was he, Wolf Ber, destined to end up in prison?” The truth will force him to confront the brittleness of his own complex moral code.

When Wolf Ber returned from the road, he always bought gifts for Celia and the girls. This time Wolf Ber had been in luck. He had broken into a safe and stolen 740 rubles. In addition, traveling on the railroad second-class, he had met a wealthy Russian and had won 150 rubles from him in a card game. Wolf Ber had long ago reached the conclusion that everything depended on fate: sometimes everything goes wrong; sometimes it doesn’t. . . . This story is no longer available. Read other recent selections from Story of the Week.


Anonymous said...

Great story, of course. Very surprising ending, even though he had premonitions that his life was about to change and that his dreams were not really dreams in the usual sense, but his own conscience and intuition that all is not well in his home.

eleeza torio said...

amazing story!! it has a lesson in life. it happens in real life.!
good thing my english professor told us to read this for an assignment! i love it. it's not boring. and yes surprising ending!

Anonymous said...

Today I very much wanted to read "The Brooch", which I had missed last summer, but it's no longer available. I notice that the surrounding Stories of the Week are still accessible, so is this a unique circumstance? Also, is there a way to access Stories of the Week backward beyond the short stack listed on the story page, and is there a duration after which a story can't be read here?

--With continuing thanks to the LOA for these calendars of Sunday stories. Their faithfulness repairs the week that was.

The Library of America said...

A good number of our stories are posted online with the permission of the copyright owners, and we received permission to post "The Brooch" for only 30 days.

Although we have not faced similar restrictions for other stories we've been able to offer, we have in fact been turned down outright for a number of stories we had hoped to offer to our readers.

Anonymous said...

LOA, Thank you for answering. I'm the reader who asked about "The Brooch". I hadn't stopped to think about the complicated matter of copyrights. That's because you have made our reading pleasure so easy.

Unknown said...

Was Isaac Bashevis Singer 30 or 34 when he moved to NY? If he was born in 1901 and came to NY in 1935, he might have been older than 30.

The Library of America said...

Jena: Good catch. Singer's actual year of birth is a matter of some confusion, thus the imprecise wording of our post. He may have been born as early as November 21 in 1901 or 1902, but as a young man Singer had used the birthdate of July 14, 1904, on many early documents and, when he arrived in New York, he often told people he was only 30. The latter date is more commonly used, and the Singer Centennial did in fact occur in 2004. I've changed the wording of the post to reflect the uncertainty.