Chavi's Reviews > The Slave

The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer
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's review
Apr 13, 2011

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bookshelves: jewish
Read in April, 2011

"The Slave" is a love story that takes place in seventeenth century Russia, in a god forsaken mountain village and in a Jewish Shtetl. Jacob, the central character, is a scholar, a slave, and a lover. Jacob's devotion to God is remarkable. True, it is born more of fear than love, but it is unquestionably wholehearted. The story might be more about the love between Jacob and God than Jacob and Wanda, his master's daughter.
Maybe because it is forbidden, maybe because it is the only brightness in a cruel world, their love is gentle and enduring, and they find comfort in each other they cannot find anywhere else.
When Jacob returns to the Jewish community he finds he has romanticized life amongst his own nation. He is suddenly confronted by a disparity. The people are obsessed over minute laws in their relationship with God and completely overlook the myriads of laws governing life between fellows. They lie, they cheat, they take advantage, they gossip. The leaders are power-hungry and money-hungry, the common men are petty and unforgiving.
Jacob is isolated and frightened of his own doubts. His relationship with God is in question. It makes his love for Wanda even more urgent.

Some thoughts:
The author treats both sides of the conflict with respect. He doesn't belittle Jacob's piety, or exaggerate his love for Wanda. The reader is convinced by the attraction and the repulsion, simultaneously.

The author's treatment of the Jewish community is harsh. It's hard to know if the description is historically accurate, or if the author had an agenda, and had experienced a similar disillusionment in his own time.

This book is important for anyone with an interest in Jewish history, or Judaism today. It gives insight to a brutal period in Jewish history which was followed by a period of profound change. It's one of those plot knots that shape all the events that follow.

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