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Love and Exile: An Autobiographical Trilogy…

Love and Exile: An Autobiographical Trilogy (1984)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Isaac Bashevis Singer was a prolific writers of short stories in Yiddish and helped to keep the Yiddish language vibrant and alive in the 20th century. He sought to free Yiddish from being a provincial, old-fashioned language and make it relevant to modern audiences. Some of his favorite themes, the relationships between men and women, science, and modern social ills, were not normally written about in Yiddish. His contributions in this area were recognized when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. When I was young, I read and enjoyed his tales for children, especially the traditional stories related to him by his mother, but I was unfamiliar with his works for adults, so his autobiography was quite eye-opening.

It occurred to me more than once to write about myself as I really was, but I was convinced that the readers, the publishers, and the critics (especially the Yiddish ones) would consider me a pornographer, a contriver, mad.

Well, he did write about himself as he really was in Love and Exile, and I can't say that I was particularly impressed with Singer as a person or the trilogy itself.

In my opinion, the first book in the trilogy, A Little Boy in Search of God, was the best. Although the book describes his childhood growing up in Warsaw, a child of a Chassidic rabbi, the action centers around his religious development. From a precocious child listening to his father preside over rabbinic courts to his older brother's belief in nature, not God, as the overarching force in the universe, Singer was dissatisfied with all the answers.

Because of my deep curiosity about science, I should have grown up a scientist, but I wasn't satisfied with mere facts--I wanted to solve the mystery of being. I sought answers to questions which tormented me then and still do to the present day.

Although he maintained an interest in science, Singer began looking for answers elsewhere. At a very young age, he began studying the cabala, Jewish mysticism, which fueled his morbid imagination and dreams. Then he began devouring philosophy, psychology, and especially the occult, in an effort to solve certain questions to his satisfaction, such as the existence of evil. He developed an ethic of protest in which every compassionate act done by a human is a thumbed nose at a God who doesn't deserve our love because of the existence of evil.

This ethic of protest, I told myself, existed in all people, in all animals, and in everything that lived and suffered. Even the evildoers protested when things started going badly for them and other malefactors did to them what they had done to others... The moral person protests not only when he is personally wronged but also when he witnesses or thinks about the suffering of others. If God wants or feels compelled to torture His creatures, that is His affair. The true protester expresses his protest by avoiding doing evil to the best of his ability.

By the time the first book in the trilogy ends, Singer is living on his own and has started an affair with a much older woman who communes with the dead and is obsessed with her own death.

The next two books, A Young Man in Search of Love and Lost in America, focus not on intellectual and spiritual development, but on Singer's many affairs (often simultaneously) and his attempts to find work and support his writing. Although the first book was often repetitive, especially as regards how precocious and intellectual daring he was, at least it was peppered with some interesting philosophical questioning. Now, Singer simply revels in his erotic victories and his lazy attempts to find and keep a job. With an air of intellectual distain for everyone around him, Singer wallows in self-absorption and hypochondria. Although I understand the 1970s bohemian times in which Singer wrote his book, I wanted to shake him and say Get a life. ( )
2 vote labfs39 | Jul 30, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374519927, Paperback)

Love and Exile contains the three volumes of the Nobel Prize Winner's spiritual autobiography, covering his childhood in a rabbinical household in Poland, his young manhood in Warsaw and his beginning as a writer, and his emigration to New York before the outbreak of war, with the concomitant displacement of a Yiddish writer in a strange land.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:28 -0400)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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