Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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FISCH / ANGLO-AMERICAN JEWISH WRITING: THE SHIFTING CENTER
11
beauty in some Henry James novel, but a Jewish survivor of
Buchenwald who ended up as a displaced person in Italy. In
view of her past, Freeman will not do. Only Levin would have
suited her. But Freeman has abolished Levin. The tone of
course is not tragic, but rather one of comic extravagance, and
literary parody. It amusingly recalls the anguish of the char­
acters of Zangwill or Cahan, but neither narrator nor reader
is any longer deeply disturbed by this tale of divided identities.
I.B. SINGER’S ROLE
Much the same applies to many of the writings of Isaac
Bashevis Singer. In a 1975 collection of short stories entitled
Passions
he repeatedly juxtaposed the present-day American re­
ality with the dream of the
shtetl
as a contradiction within the
thoughts and imagination of his characters. This is the strategy
of Abraham Cahan and Zangwill earlier on, but whereas Cahan
and Zangwill seek to exorcise demons — those of themselves
and their characters — Singer entertains us with ironic whimsy.
We need not take the contradictions too seriously.
One story in the collection is entitled “Sam Palka and David
Vishkover.” It is again a witty rehandling of the archetype of
the “double.” Sam Palka belongs to the materialistic, disen­
chanted world of the American bourgeois; Vishkover, his other
self, represents Jewish existence in Europe prior to the Hol­
ocaust. Fantastically, Palka finds, in New York, a young woman
straight out of the
shtetl.
She is Channah Basha, beautiful, pious
and unaffected by today’s world. She is even reading an old-
fashioned Yiddish storybook,
Sheindele with the Blue Lips.
“I had
read it years before,” he tells us, “on the other side. I thought
I was dreaming and pinched myself, but it was no dream.” So
he proceeds to live a double life — one, as Sam Palka, with
his wife Bessie and their family, the other, as David Vishkover,
with Channah Basha whom he promises to marry when he is
free. But, of course, he will never cut himself adrift from the
contemporary American reality. Channah Basha remains a sen­
timental dream at best, not a serious option. There is no way
back to the
shtetl
for Singer. The genre of the double provides
him with the opportunity for a display of virtuosity rather than
the means of articulating a problem which threatens the stability
of the world or that of his readership. The truth is that there