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Satana a Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Satana a Goray (original 1935; edition 2004)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bruno Oddera, Claudio Magris

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549534,508 (3.86)22
As messianic zeal sweeps through medieval Poland, the Jews of Goray divide between those who, like the Rabbi, insist that no one can "force the end" and those who follow the messianic pretender Sabbatai Zevi. But as hysteria and depravity increase, it becomes clear that it is not the Messiah who has come to Goray.… (more)
Title:Satana a Goray
Authors:Isaac Bashevis Singer
Other authors:Bruno Oddera, Claudio Magris
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction

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Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1935)


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» See also 22 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
(from the cover) A Powerful Novel about a False Messiah
  LanternLibrary | Sep 17, 2017 |
"But it is the way of the world that in time everything reverts to what it has been."

This is one of those books where you finish it and just kind of sit back and go ...huh. I don't really know what to say about it. The writing is certainly well done. But it's...yeah I just don't know.
One thing it's not, is for the squeamish. Butchering, blood, death, beatings, rape, this is not your light reading for the faint-hearted. There is plenty of depravity of all sorts to go round.

The whole thing is very heavy, from the start. It tells the story of a small Polish town (shtetl), Goray, in the 1660s, after the Chmelnicki massacres had wiped out a large portion of the Jews/town population in 1648, and of what happens when the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, becomes known in the world and the town.

"Once Rechele saw two blood-smeared butcher boys skin a goat and let it lie there with eyeballs protruding in amazement and white teeth projecting in a kind of death-smile."

It's pretty much a lot of thinking "What, no, stop! Why are you doing that! Think! Be smart! What's wrong with you!" and so forth. Frustrating!

That said, it does feel realistic. People caught up in the messianic cult, in the fervor of their beliefs, tend to do pretty awful things. The mob mentality catches on quick and people forget their sense of morality. And when you've survived your town being ravaged, well, it's easy to want to believe that the Messiah has come to take you away from the bad things in the world and bring you to glorious peace and happiness. So, why not put your faith in that stranger who comes to town and says all the right things and promises you heaven, literally!

But I did have some issues. One, there was really not a single redeeming character in the book. Even the "good" ones were too flawed. So, while in a sense I wanted the town to wake up and pull through and get their act together, I really couldn't say that I gave a hoot what happened to the individual characters. I felt bad for Rabbi Benish, his last scene, especially, but, it was more about what he stood for and what the town was losing.

Also, and maybe this is just me, or that I set the book down for a couple weeks, but I had trouble keeping some of the characters straight. There were a few similar names (Nechele & Rechele?), and a lot of characters, especially for such a very short book. But it wasn't a very big deal, just a mild annoyance.

"All night the voice called to Rechele, without interruption, at times in the holy tongue, at times in Yiddish. The air thickened with smoke and a glowing, ghostly, purple light. Rechele felt the walls sundering, the ceiling dissolving, and the whole house above the clouds. Swooning with fear, she lay with inert limbs: her eyes glazed, her arms and legs distended and wooden like those of a corpse." ( )
  .Monkey. | Dec 11, 2015 |
A fabulous story of the life of a closed, isolated jewish village in the 17th century Poland. A village where everyone waits for the messiah coming but someone completely different arrives and the village's life turns upside down... ( )
  TheCrow2 | Oct 4, 2013 |
If you are not ready to wade into intricacies of 17th Century Jewish life, issues, and politics, then you may want to shy away from this book. However, in spite of what could be a tough read because of the subject and the style (as the translator notes “the style classic, almost archaic”), people are still people. And Singer does a good job of weaving the lives of these people into the story of the potential coming of the Messiah.

The book is based on events which occurred in the 1660s when the Jewish expectations of the coming Messiah had reached a peak. Many false Messiahs came to answer the call, but one in particular seemed to be the real deal – Sabbatai Zevi. That he wasn’t became apparent when he had the choice of death or converting to the Muslim faith. He lived a long life.

The book is set in the town of Goray in Poland, where the town becomes torn apart. It would seem that the bigger issue of whether or not a true Messiah is coming is at the core of this strife, but it is really the smaller everyday issues that underlay every community – the “Messiah” just helps bring these to a head.

The book is no easy read, for the reasons given above. However, it is an excellent book that brings the times alive with real people who, cloaked in their traditions, struggle to move on with life – whether that life is about to be cut blessedly short by fulfillment of God’s promises, or it is to continue on with the realities we all face. ( )
1 vote figre | Dec 30, 2012 |
The Jewish messiah has arrived. Or has he? Sabbetai Zevi’s mid-seventeenth century cult drives a small Jewish village in Poland to madness as believers and non-believers in the professed saviour respectively overthrow and then restore the established religious tradition of the town.

The book is fast paced and involving, but I felt had a messy ending – the narrative switches very suddenly to explain the end of the movement in the form of a religious text, rather than the more standard narrative that has driven the rest of the book. In another review of the book online, this was explained as a device to show up the inadequacy of a religious explanation for what had happened as well as the sociological one which had already been exposed. If this is the case, I think it was unnecessary; the problems of a religious explanation were already more than apparent. Nevertheless, an intriguing book, well worth the read. ( )
  roblong | Oct 15, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaac Bashevis Singerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Некрасов, ИсроэлTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hengst, UllaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koningsveld, P. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skoumal, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sloan, JosephTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the year 1648, the wicked Ukrainian hetman, Bogdan Chmelnicki, and his followers besieged the city of Zamosc but could not take it, because it was strongly fortified; the rebelling haidamak peasants moved on to spread havoc in Tomaszow, Bilgoraj, Krasnik, Turbin, Frampol -- and in Goray, too, the town that lay in the midst of the hills at the end of the world.
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As messianic zeal sweeps through medieval Poland, the Jews of Goray divide between those who, like the Rabbi, insist that no one can "force the end" and those who follow the messianic pretender Sabbatai Zevi. But as hysteria and depravity increase, it becomes clear that it is not the Messiah who has come to Goray.

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