The Manor-Isaac Bashevis Singer   Leave a comment

Another book from the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list. This novel is my second by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a renowned Jewish novelist from Poland, who was based mainly around Lublin. I had previously read the Magician of Lublin, which I very much enjoyed.

The Manor is the first of 2 novels based around 3 generations of a Jewish family in Nineteenth Century Poland. The sequel, ‘The Estate’ I have yet to read.

Singer writes of a changing Poland, where Jews are suddenly allowed to open businesses and move into towns, after being consigned to the outlying Shetls for so many years. Calman, a pious Jew, and central character of the novel, takes up the tenancy of the local manor, after the local Lord is imprisoned by the Czar. Suddenly he is no longer poor, but rich, yet in a lot of debt as he pursues the many business opportunities which begin to resent themselves.

Life changes for Calman and his wife, and we follow him as he travels to a local town to celebrate Jewish festivals and spend time with the local Hassidim. Singer gives us a detailed look into the private life of Jews of this time. From the dedicated study of the Yeshuva boys, to the lives of the women, who worked hard and shaved their heads and on whom even their husband cannot even glance when in company. They men and women led very separate lives it appears.

The next priority, now Calman is rich, is to marry off his daughters. One of them absconds with the son of the local Lord, a Christian, and a terrible shame. She is cut off from the rest of the family.

The story now begins to broaden out, as the lives of each married daughter and their growing families and spouses becomes a part of the story.

After Calman’s wife dies, he decides to remarry and causes his own scandal, when he marries a non- practicing Jew. She has an affair and that forces Calman to leave her. Again the story broadens out to include her story and that of her father, a business associate of Calman.

At the end of the story, we are looking at a family completely fractured, and living in a totally different way from that of the small Shetl at the beginning of the novel.

The story is easy to become involved with, and flows telling the story of this one family. My personal fascination came with the information I learned of 19th Century Poland and the intimate lives of the Jews at this time. This was completely new to me and was very detailed and apparently most accurate.

Certainly a novel worth reading for Jews and Christians alike.

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Posted July 20, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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