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The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

The Fixer (1966)

by Bernard Malamud

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The novel is about Yacov Bok - a Jewish handyman or "fixer". Living in Kiev without official papers, Bok is arrested on suspicion of murder, when a Christian boy is killed during Passover. Jailed without being officially charged, and denied visitors or legal counsel, Bok is treated poorly and interrogated repeatedly. Among other things, he is asked about his political views, and replies that he is apolitical. During his many months in jail, he has time to contemplate his sad life and human nature in general. He finally finds it in his heart to forgive his former wife, who left him just before the novel began. This act of forgiveness is symbolically important in Bok's spiritual growth.

The novel ends with Bok finally being charged and brought to trial. In the final scene, on his way to court, he has an imaginary dialogue with the Tzar. Bok blames the Tzar for ruling over the most backward and regressive regime in Europe. He also famously concludes that "there is no such thing as an apolitical man, especially a Jew."

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
A novel about injustice and forgiveness, this book can be a difficult read just because it rings so remorselessly true. If we make the effort to slog through the depressing grit, we can be transformed by this luminous novel. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
In Kiev in 1911 a Russian boy is brutally murdered, and Yakov Bok, a Jew living illegally in an area of the city forbidden to Jews is arrested and falsely accused of the crime. Even though the authorities know he’s innocent, they manufacture evidence against him for political purposes. Yakov is kept in prison for several years before he is finally allowed a trial, and the police’s treatment of him gets worse and worse over time in an attempt to get him to confess to the charges. According to Wikipedia, this book was based on a true story.

This was a good book, but not an easy one to read because of the subject matter. There were a lot of days when I just didn’t want to pick it up again because it was so uncomfortable to read. However, the more I thought about it, the more parallels I saw to contemporary situations, both in the US and internationally. It’s definitely a story that needs to be told and remembered, and well worth the read, if you can get through it. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
This is not an easy one to rate. Yes, it made some important and profound points but much like Blindness which I read earlier this year, it became tedious, tortuous and repetitive. Perhaps if it had been 100 pages shorter I would have given it a 3 or 4. Will have to ask the person who recommended this to me why exactly they felt I should read this. Moving on to something light and entertaining next. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Oct 21, 2014 |
After reading over a hundred pages in Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, which is in large part about the horrid pogroms unleashed on Europe's Jews in the Middle Ages, I thought The Fixer would be a compatible co-read. The novel is set in Russia between the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1905) and the start of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). The Fixer tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jew dwelling in a Russian shtetl 30 versts from Kiev who tries to work as a general handyman, a fixer. But there's not much to fix in the shtetl, and not much money to go around in payment. Bok is usually paid in soup. But Bok is ambitious and after being left by his wife, whom he believes barren, he heads for nearby Kiev where there dwells a large population of Jews living in the ghetto. He believes that in the shtetl life was passing him by. On his way to Kiev, he fantasizes about wealth and property and a new wife who bears him beautiful children. He is able to pass for a Russian. One day he finds a fat man, Nikolai Maximovitch, face down in the snow. Turning him over he detects first the liquour on his breath and then the emblem of the Black Hundreds, a virulently anti-Semitic group, on his coat. The man's daughter appears and together they carry the inebriate home. As a reward, Bok is put to work papering the flat Nikolai Maximovutch owns above his own, for 40 rubles--an enormous sum. Later, Bok is promoted to run the Russian's brick factory. When a dead boy is found, and his death absurdly attributed to nonexistent Jewish practices, Bok is picked up by the police. It's clear from the start that their only goal is to frame him for this murder. The intensity of false witness borne against Bok simply astonishes. The monstrous hate with which his accusers are consumed stuns the mind. The so-called testimonies from so-called witnesses reveal a legal system rotten to the core. Everyone, it seems, is a pathological liar. The fixer is then moved to prison and it is here that Malamud appears to do the impossible: to take us through a day to day existence that is bleakness itself and yet which holds the reader through sheer narrative impetus. Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon was probably a model for Malamud, and without question Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago did not appear until 1972 and The Fixer was published in 1966. Both are set in Russia and contain long detailed sections about coercing false confessions. I know a lot of readers abhor this book, or any book not about sunny, feel-good topics. Those readers are apparently in the game for its power to divert them from their current miseries. The Fixer isn't interested in doing that. It is in fact about misery, about suffering. It's almost as if Malamud said: Let me take the grimmest subject matter imaginable and not only make it supremely readable, but make it into art. However, he has done far more than that. He has also dramatized a common plight under the ignorant Tsar Nicholas II--whose entire family would shortly be executed by the Bolsheviks--and thereby instructs us all in matters of virtue. ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
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I don’t recommend you read this book if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, if you don’t want to feel like an outcast yourself. On the other hand, for those of you who enjoy complex characters for whom the intellectual, the spiritual, and the political intertwine, have at it. But know that you are risking the competition of feeling.

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernard Malamudprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buckley, LynnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foer, Jonathan SafranIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, MarshallDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Irrational streams of blood are staining the earth. -- Yeats

O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln-- slayn also

With cursed Jewes, as is notable,

For it is but a litel while ago--

Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable, Chaucer

For Paul
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From the small crossed window of his room above the stable in the brickyard, Yakov Bok saw people in their long overcoats running somewhere early that morning, everybody in the same direction.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

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Book description
Yakov Bok is an ordinary man accused of "ritual murder" and persecuted by agents of a remote and all-powerful state.
But when he is at last pushed too far, he triumphs over almost incredible brutality and degradation to become a moral giant.

I've just finished reading this book, and it was one I couldn't put down. The time and place was of Yakov Bok, a Jewish man living in Russia when Jews were persecuted and had no status in the society. He starts out to leave his unfaithful wife make a new start on his own One thing leads to another - he gets employment, the business owner's daughter takes a shine to him, and he is just starting to get his life going when he is falsely accused of savagely murdering a child in the neighbourhood.  There is only the accusation which never comes to trial, terrible hardship and long imprisonment without having any chance to defend himself.  He shows tremendous determination in keeping the dignity of a human being who insists on not admitting to a crime of which he is innocent. The ending of this story gives a thoughtful picture of Tsar Nicholas and his way of governing his people. It is a preview in a way of the end of Russia's rule by the aristocracy.  
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374529388, Paperback)

The Fixer is the winner of the 1967 National Book Award for Fiction and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Fixer (1966) is Bernard Malamud's best-known and most acclaimed novel -- one that makes manifest his roots in Russian fiction, especially that of Isaac Babel.

Set in Kiev in 1911 during a period of heightened anti-Semitism, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman blamed for the brutal murder of a young Russian boy. Bok leaves his village to try his luck in Kiev, and after denying his Jewish identity, finds himself working for a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds Society. When the boy is found nearly drained of blood in a cave, the Black Hundreds accuse the Jews of ritual murder. Arrested and imprisoned, Bok refuses to confess to a crime that he did not commit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In Tsarist Russia, Yakov is accused of a ritual murder he did not commit.

» see all 2 descriptions

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