Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
name o f Sarah), is an ex trao rd inary woman and fictional cre­
a tion .14
Because Wanda canno t speak the language o f the Jews, she
passes herse lf o f f as a mu te and it is only in ch ildbirth tha t she
cries ou t and discloses th a t she is capable o f speech. In h e r saintli­
ness, she is more p ro found ly Jewish than those am ong whom she
lives. In a momen t o f agony, she cries out, “You call yourselves
Jews bu t you don ’t obey the T o rah . You pray and bow your heads
bu t you speak evil o f everyone and beg rudge each o th e r a crust o f
b read .”
Upon h e r death , Jacob m ou rn s .15He changes. He raises his son
and goes up to the Holy Land, where he lives the life o f a good Jew
(not unlike Yasha in
The Magician o f Lublin
).
When his time is upon him, he comes back to die in the Polish
village where Wanda-Sarah b rea thed h e r last. H e r grave, forgo t­
ten and undiscovered, is eventually found when Jacob dies and
the grave-diggers p rep a re his final resting-place. His wife’s bones
are tu rn ed up and the two are buried together: the Jew and the
gentile, wedded in life, lie toge ther again in dea th . Jacob, no
longer a slave o f
goyim,
has rem a ined true both to his people and
the woman who devoted h e r life to him. He has been a slave o f his
faith, no t to strangers.
I t is a touching love story. It is also an ode to Juda ism , fo r the
estranged Jew, to rn ou t o f the bosom of his people, re tu rn s to tha t
people with a woman, once foreign to him and now pa r t o f him
and the Jewish people as well. Judaism , then to Singer, can — and
does — survive all. Love and faith are blended — and the lew lives
on .16
14 In a perverse and wrong-headed review of Sosha in the
New York Review of
Books,
December 7, 1978, Leon Wieseltier writes that “the women in Singer’s
narratives are always less than characters; they are only mere sites o f iniquity.”
Wanda-Sarah may be more o f a symbol than a character, but a “site o f iniquity?”
She is literally saintly.
15 In a moving passage by Singer, Jacob reflects on his relations with his dying
wife (she does not survive childbirth). “He had wrenched this woman from
generations o f gentiles, robbed her o f mother, sister, sister-in-law, all her
family. He had even deprived her o f her speech. And what had he given in
return? Only himself. He had wed her to dangers from which only a miracle
could rescue her. For the first time he realized the ordeal to which she had been
subjected, and came close to her and stroked her head.”
18 In his interview with this writer (in
Midstream),
Singer said, “For years I wanted
to write this story. I found my notebooks and in one o f them I found this line,
Jacob is being converted.’You know, I played with all kinds o f ideas. . . Before