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Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis…
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Enemies, A Love Story (original 1966; edition 1988)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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627915,477 (3.94)18
Member:aluvalibri
Title:Enemies, A Love Story
Authors:Isaac Bashevis Singer
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1988), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:literature, 20th century, America, Jewish, Nobel Prize

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Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1966)

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English (8)  Dutch (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
It's 1948 or so, soon after the birth of Israel. Herman Broder, who is Jewish, lives in New York with the shiksa who saved him from the Holocaust. This woman, Yadwiga, a Polish peasant with calloused hands, hid him in a hayloft for four years. She brought him food. She carried away his waste. Naturally, when the war ends and he hears the terrible news that his wife and children were gunned down in a trench, he acts upon his gratitude and marries Yadwiga. He brings her to New York City. They settle in Coney Island, home of the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and Parachute Jump, the sandy boardwalk with its many concessions, fortune tellers, tchochke shops and beach.

Herman, who has never been at ease in this world, even before the Nazis, is death saturated. Moreover, he has, as do many of his companions, something that the psychologists call survival guilt. He regrets that he did not die in the war. Why is he alive? He is extremely unhappy, anxiety-ridden, and given to delusions in which the Nazis have invaded or are about to invade New York. His response to this condition is visceral. He sleeps around as much as he can. In addition to Yadwiga, in Brooklyn, he has Masha, in the Bronx. Both Masha and her mother are survivors, too. Eventually, by the novel's end, Herman is sleeping with and married to three women. Wherever he goes he plans an escape route, just in case. His experience during the war has rendered him Godless, yet he finds work writing devotional books and sermons for a local Rabbi, his training in the Talmud being deep. Most of the time however he is going from one woman's bed to the next. Yet he refuses to have any more children. No one, he believes, should have children in a world which allows them to be gunned down in trenches. That frustrated or blocked fertility/virility is the book's central metaphor.

There's something a little old fashioned about the book which I liked. The narrative is straightforward chronology. Singer avoids the use of flashbacks for the most part. Too, the story is steeped in the old-world shtetl values in which, of course, marriage was a holy and sacred trust. So I think some of the book worked as comedy for a previous generation in a way it no longer works for most present-day readers. Herman's polygamy is meant to be seen as the ultimate sign of his despair. But even with that bit of cultural comedy neutralized, there is much to impress. Singer has a compressed style which (here translated from the Yiddish) is charmingly sustained. His spot on characterizations run very deep. Enemies: A Love Story is a superb novel even if it no longer functions in precisely the way Singer intended. Highly recommended. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Herman before: retreating mensch, vaguely overwhelmed, lies for love. Herman after: same retreating mensch, vaguely overwhelmed, lies for love, but now he's in a new world, among refugees, anxious about returning nazis, scouting bell towers, caves, cellars just in case, just in case "they" come back. And they do. Herman dissembles, juggles women, his multiple selves, can't say no, and piles up the obligations, the little lies, and tries to keep going as life takes him for a ride. Comic characters, dark survivalist humor, a hero you can love, it's a movie in a book. ( )
  grheault | Jan 30, 2014 |
A great story. The bleak confusion of post holocaust Jews in America. Gives plenty of harrowing detail of what actually happened, including the next stage in Stalin's Russia, but the centre of the book is a helper-skelter tragicomedy of an innerly empty survivor who ends up with 3 wives and a wrecked life. Page -turning pace, surprises and cliff-hangers, enough Jewich humour to make you laugh as you weep. ( )
1 vote vguy | Jan 12, 2014 |
00002809
  cavlibrary | Jun 3, 2013 |
The story was that of a man who'd survived the holocaust in Poland. Believing that his wife had been killed, he eventually emigrated to New York and married a Polish woman, who'd been his mother's servant and was eventually responsible for hiding him during the Nazi occupation.

The story begins several years after he'd moved to New York and in those ensuing years, he's taken a mistress. His life is complicated, as he's in love with his mistress but feels beholden to his wife. To add further confusion for him, his first wife turns up alive and living in Brooklyn. Only when he is reunited with her does he realize that the idealized version of her he remembered was very much fiction. In fact, he openly despised her and left her and his two children well before the holocaust would have separated them.

The writing is tight, and funny. There are a ton of secondary characters that add humor and complications to the tale. I felt both pity and disgust with the main character, and these feelings only increased as he refused to make a choice between the women, even as they gradually learned more about his situation.

In summation : I found this book to be complex, at both times funny and incredibly moving. I would recommend it to anyone who likes challenging writing coupled with a complex storyline. ( )
  agnesmack | Sep 24, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaac Bashevis Singerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bromet, StellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shevrin, AlizaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shub, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Herman Broder turned over and opened one eye.
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But that was the way with facts. They punctured every bubble of conceit, shattered theories, destroyed convictions. (Chap. 6 (2))
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
"The novel was first published in The Jewish Daily Forward in 1966 under the title "Sonim, di Geshichte fun a Liebe." Author's note
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Author's note: Although I did not have the privilege of going through the Hitler holocaust, I lived for years in New York with refugees from this ordeal. I therefore hasten to say that this is by no means the story of the typical refugee, his life and struggle. Like most of my fictional works, this book presents an exceptional case with unique heroes and a unique combination of events. The characters are not only Nazi victims but victims of their own personalities and fates. If they fit inot the general picture, it is because the exception in rooted in the rule. As a matter of fact, in literature the exception is the rule.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374515220, Paperback)

Almost before he knows it, Herman Broder, refugee and survivor of World War II, has three wives: Yadwiga, the Polish peasant who hid him from the Nazis; Masha , his beautiful and neurotic true love; and Tamara, his first wife, miraculously returned from the dead. Astonished by each new complication, and yet resigned to a life of evasion, Herman navigates a crowded, Yiddish New York with a sense of perpetually impending doom.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A Holocaust survivor and ghostwriter in 1949 New York finds himself involved with three women - his current wife, the married woman with whom he's having an affair, and his long-vanished wife whom he thought was killed during the war. Focuses on Holocaust survivors who no longer abide by religious morals and question a God who could let the Holocaust occur.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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