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Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Shosha (1978)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Showing 5 of 5
Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer was written in Yiddish in the 1970s and appeared in a New York Yiddish newspaper. I am amazed I finished the book. Something compelled me even as I was bored. The story of a young man in the Warsaw ghetto between the world wars through the period when Hitler was in power. The young boy Aaron grew to be a writer and eventually marry his childhood friend, Shosha who was provincial and immature. Aaron as a young adult became more sophisticated as he was a writer of books and serials in newspapers. He fell in love with Shosha though carried on affairs with others. He marries Shosha and lives with her mother who has long be separated from her husband who seems like an unappealing character. There are too many philosophical diversions in the books. Though the book is called SHOSHA it is really the story of the growth and development of Aaron who escapes from Poland via Shanghai and goes to America. Shosha died as they were escaping Poland. If i make it sound like a boring story it is because it is. I have read some of his short stories that are wonderful on the other hand. There is much still be explored and I will continue with Singer. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Sep 11, 2015 |
Some months back, I relocated an antique bookcase long ago constructed from the headboard of some ancient bed to a wall in our bedroom just opposite my own pillow. It is packed full with scores of mass market paperbacks, a now mostly obsolete format that once thrived as a means to put both great literature and pulp into the hands of a wider population in inexpensive, portable editions. So it was that I went to sleep each night staring at my own eclectic array of mass markets – classics, literature, sci-fi and, yes, some pulp – collected almost entirely during my teen years. This is how it was that I came to read Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer, randomly plucked from that shelf between yawns one evening.
Singer, who was born in Warsaw when it was a part of Russia (Poland ceased to be a nation during its long partition from 1795-1918), left Europe on the eve of the rise of Hitler and spent most of his long life in the United States, where he established a reputation in the Yiddish literary movement based upon his themes of Jewish mysticism, morality, philosophy and vegetarianism that eventually earned him a Nobel Prize. Like much of his work, Shosha was originally written in Yiddish.
Shosha is an odd book, by any measure. Written later in life when Singer was in his seventies, the perhaps semi-autobiographical novel looks back through the eyes of its protagonist, fledgling writer Aaron Greidinger, at the Jewish ghetto of his childhood in one corner of the Russian empire where he befriends the eponymous Shosha, as well as the independent Poland of his young manhood defined by the ever-widening shadow of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. When Aaron – known by the affectionate nickname Tsutsik – is reunited with Shosha many years later he is a young man on the make, struggling to earn a living as a writer, moving in literary circles where conversations frequently turn to Spinoza, Kant and Schopenhauer, as well as the orthodox rabbinical tradition he has largely abandoned. Tsutsik, who lives on the margins barely scraping by, nevertheless has one Dickensian event of good fortune after another. Rich men want to sponsor him. Almost every woman wants to bed him – and he eagerly obliges them. Shosha, on the other hand, in the intervening years has endured some kind of catastrophic malady termed a “sleeping sickness” that has left her short and stunted with a body barely developed beyond that of a child. In fact, she is frequently mistaken for a child. She also seems to be at least mildly mentally retarded. Nevertheless, when Tsutsik finds her again, he immediately commences an obsessive love affair with Shosha that is incomprehensible to everyone he knows. And, I might add, to the reader, as well.
I assumed the timeless innocence of the character Shosha to be a an allegory to the lost world of the Warsaw of Tsutsik’s – and Singer’s – childhood, before the Great War, and perhaps a symbol of the fragility of the reborn yet hardly mature new nation of Poland, doomed to fall once more before the onslaught of Nazi tanks. But there is clearly more to it than that as Tsutsik’s romantic love for Shosha deepens and they become betrothed. While Shosha is biologically a grown woman, there remains something creepily Lolita-like about her as an object of sexual lust, especially as it is repeatedly made clear in the narrative that others perceive her as the child she appears to be. My discomfort grew exponentially in the graphic description of the wedding night scene, replete with bloody sheets, in which Tsutsik effectively rapes the terrified, resisting Shosha. This sense of violation is further exacerbated a few pages later, when a peevish Shosha confesses that she wants more of that marriage bed, as soon as possible. Perhaps I am more sensitive than I used to be, but none of this sat well with me at all. In fact, I could not shake a sense of disgust at being forced to serve as audience to a kind of literary voyeuristic pedophilia that was at best gratuitous, at worst repulsive.
Through all of this, I anticipated some sort of dramatic denouement, which was not to be. Suddenly, and without explanation, the narrative ends. It then picks up again in a disjointed “Epilogue” that finds Tsutsik thirteen years later, an established New York author visiting the new nation of Israel, which serves as an uneven vehicle for relating the fate of all of the significant characters from the novel: “anticlimactic” does not even begin to describe it.
I have never read Singer before, nor have I read other works from his Yiddish literary tradition, so I am possibly not qualified to properly judge the merit of this novel. It is clear that Singer was an extremely gifted writer working within a highly-developed intellectual milieu. Portions of the narrative devoted to existential explorations of philosophy, religion, politics and morality are well worth the read. Still, the episodes with the girl-child Shosha that come to dominate the book are deeply disturbing, whatever the author’s intent. If Shosha is indeed a metaphor for innocence, we cannot help but cringe at her defilement by the novelist as protagonist. Would I ever read Singer again? I can’t say. Would I recommend Shosha to others? Not so much. ( )
  Garp83 | Sep 6, 2015 |
  cavlibrary | Jun 3, 2013 |
Tale of writer in Warsaw pre-WWII who has to decide whether to stay with his immature sweetheart or flee to NY.
  Folkshul | Jan 15, 2011 |
To me, Shosha is a book about a culture lost, about the vibrant and diverse, and very much alive community of Polish Jews in the interwar period. Singer describes with emotion, but also cynicism and criticism, the different aspects of that life, which the war wiped out forever. But as always with SInger, this is also very much a book about love, and it's not necessary the love between Shosha and the protagonist, but more about the man's need for a love and a desire for the simple. The young writer goes back to the slow and immature girl who was his companion of childhood, his first listener who appreciate every word. The book presents a love that is completely unconventional, but one that has so many unexpected aspects and faces. ( )
  Mavol | Jul 30, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaac Bashevis Singerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Helmond, Joop vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singer, JosephTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374524807, Paperback)

Shosha is a hauntingly lyrical love story set in Jewish Warsaw on the eve of its annihilation. Aaron Greidinger, an aspiring Yiddish writer and the son of a distinguished Hasidic rabbi, struggles to be true to his art when faced with the chance at riches and a passport to America. But as he and the rest of the Writers' Club wait in horror for Nazi Germany to invade Poland, Aaron rediscovers Shosha, his childhood love-still living on Krochmalna Street, still mysteriously childlike herself-who has been waiting for him all these years.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:46 -0400)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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