Monday, February 15, 2010

Entry 2.1: "The Fixer," by Bernard Malamud (1967)

The second novel I've decided to tackle in this project is The Fixer, by Bernard Malamud, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967.

I have little to no idea what this book is about and, thus, no real reason for wanting to read it so badly. In all honesty, I think one of the reasons I wanted to finish The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love as quickly as possible wasn't because I couldn't put it down, but because I was so looking forward to starting The Fixer. Maybe it's because I snatched a first edition of it away from Josh when we were at Frugal Muse. First editions have a way of making me feel even more connected to the time that it was written in -- it's as though I'm living in 1966, seeing this book on the shelf and racing it to the cashier so that I can crack its binding and spend my free time with it, just like the person who owned it before me did (one F.W. Pfohl, who resided a 54 West End Avenue in Westmont, IL, according to the nameplate on the inside cover), 44 years ago.

Here's a short description of the book, as found on the dust jacket's inside flap:
We believe The Fixer to be a great novel. Bernard Malamud has put a lifetime of working at his craft into this extraordinary book. What makes the difference here is that the author's consummate skill has been applied to a great theme -- injustice -- and embodied in a great story.
The Fixer is the story of a little man, a handy-man, who becomes a hero before our eyes. Yakov Bok is the last man in the world who wants to be a hero; it's an honor he feels he could do without. But fate and history and the times in which one lives follow their inexorable laws. Yakov lives in Tsarist Russia in Kiev during a virulent period of anti-Semitism, and when the body of a dead boy is found in a cave, the local Black Hundreds group accuses the Jews of his murder. From the Jews to a Jew is only a short step: Yakov is arrested for a crime he did not commit. In the long suffering that follows his refusal to "confess," Yakov is transformed from a little man into a big one.
Though Mr. Malamud's novel deals with a particular form of injustice, his theme is universal. Any innocent victim of a miscarriage of injustice, whether his name is Vanzetti or Dreyfus or Timothy Evans, would illustrate the theme equally well. In the case of The Fixer, the victim is a very minor member of society. If he were any further down on the social scale, he would be over the abyss. Yet this is a man you will never forget because his story, as Bernard Malamud tells it in The Fixer, will last as long as books are read.

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