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The Pawnbroker

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  521 ratings  ·  71 reviews
For most of us, remembering the Holocaust requires effort; we listen to stories, watch films, read histories. But the people who came to be called “survivors” could not avoid their memories. Sol Nazerman, protagonist of Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker, is one such sufferer.

At 45, Nazerman, who survived Bergen-Belsen although his wife and children did not, runs a Harl
Paperback, 279 pages
Published November 10th 2015 by Fig Tree Books (first published 1961)
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Elyse  Walters
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This story is primarily about Sol Nazerman, a victim Holocaust Survivor, and his present day life as a Pawnbroker.

This was first written in the 60's. There is a movie - which I haven't seen.

Sol, 45 years old, survived Bergen-Belsen, but his wife and children did not. The flashback scenes -haunting dreams - are gruesome graphic scenes of Sol's past Nazi imprisonment - including horrific memories of his wife being forced into prostitution and equally horrific suffering his children endured befor
Greta G
“The sea of grief has no shores, no bottom ; no one can sound its depths.”
― Primo Levi, If Not Now, When?

Sol Nazerman runs a pawnshop in a neglected, low-income, black neighbourhood in 1960s East-Harlem.
Every day, miserable people appear in the shop, trying to trade in their cherished possessions for small loans they need to keep going. Nazerman responds to their desperation with apathy and disdain.

We slowly learn Nazerman is a holocaust survivor who was dehumanized in the camps, and who lost
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes that when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. The Pawnbroker, a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, is about a man who has stared long into the abyss, though through no choice of his own. The abyss has made a home in his heart, the difference being this is a conscious choice on his part.

Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front begins with a memorable observation;

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and
Graham P
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
They don't write novels like this anymore. There is such an inherent ugliness in 'The Pawnbroker', and rarely does it ever let up. Heavy-handed, morose, darkly humorous, and at times, gloriously overwritten. This is as much a book about the Holocaust as it is about poverty in New York City--everybody is ruined in more ways than one. Rarely have such unlikable characters been so lovingly treated by their author. Edward Lewis Wallant had that rare touch of hammering the reader with the grotesque a ...more
Kasa Cotugno
I tried to read this book over 50 years ago, when the memory of the movie was still seared into my mind. Full disclosure, it was so evocative that I had to put it aside and never picked it up again. Now, at a remove of this amount of time, its power has not diminished. But this time, it held me for its entire length.

At that time I didn't know the tragedy of Edward Lewis Wallant, its author, dead at the age of 36 from an aneurysm. Had he lived longer, he would have definitely enjoyed a reputation
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty dark but compelling. The hilarious pathos of Tenants is obviously missing but the bruised rituals of survivors make this a wrenching satisfaction.
Erika Dreifus
Immensely honored to be part of the team at Fig Tree Books that will be re-publishing this classic novel in the fall. Our edition features a new foreword by Dara Horn.
Jan 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
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Sol Nazerman is a victim of the Holocaust, as you become familiar with Sol you understand he is far from the label of survivor. He's best described as a dead man walking, an automaton of trauma. Broken from all he has endured and lost, impacting his life greatly, the mental and emotional damage unrepairable. An affecting story of tremendous loss, family, sacrifice. A story of picking up the pieces when every thing has been stolen from you. Well writ
Charles Weinblatt
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Pawnbroker is a haunting, powerful book about the vast gamut of human behavior, including some of the darkest moments in human history. But it’s not a book about the Holocaust.

It’s about the cognitive destruction of a Holocaust survivor. It’s the haunting story of a man named Sol, so embittered by life experiences that he has become immune to any form of human sympathy, compassion, or love. He lives in constant desperation, unable to find a release from horrific dreams and equally powerless
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
This was a life-changing book for me when I was 12. I'm trying to find some record of what I said about it back then. I'll be rereading it as well.
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Like reading early Bellow. Makes me wonder when writers decided that stories involving the Holocaust had to either be morality plays or drenched in shmaltz.
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, arc
Sol Nazerman runs a pawn shop in a low-income neighborhood. His business is mostly legitimate--sure, he pays money for the random trinkets brought in by his destitute neighbors--but the business isn't profitable. And he's only able to stay afloat through the patronage of a local criminal who is using Sol's business as a vessel to launder his money.

Sol lives an isolated and sad existence. As the story advances, we see why. Sol is a Holocaust survivor--the only one of his nuclear family to make i
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Moving and powerful, even more than the fine film made from it.
Feb 26, 2019 rated it liked it
While I enjoyed this book and thought many parts of it were quite thought-provoking, I didn't have an overall feeling of satisfaction with the way in which the ending plays out. It felt rushed compared to the rest of the novel, and I think that there were several parts that could have been expanded upon to round out the novel. I'll be trying to write about this on my blog in the next few days. I've already fallen off the wagon on that.
Roger Brunyate
Apr 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: holocaust
Past That by a Million Years

Dara Horn's impassioned introduction to this reprint of Wallant's 1961 novel hails it as a masterpiece, putting what she calls a flood of later bad Holocaust novels into the shade, and placing the author in what would have been the same league as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, had he not died of an aneurysm at the age of 36, a year after this novel was published. Is such praise an overstatement? I found it a tough, uncompromising book, grim and difficult to read, but wi
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
The writing style throughout the book was ridiculously good. It uses so many literary devices, but manages not to knock you over the head with them - a very difficult balance. It should be required reading for fiction writers. It is the type of book I wanted to savor and read several times to get every nuance. I am definitely going to read it again.

The Pawnbroker gave me so much to think about...I can hardly write about it here. Can tragedy result in a person being dead inside, or is that person
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dara Horn called it a masterpiece in her essay "Against Holocaust Novels."

The late, great D.G. Myers wrote, "The Pawnbroker is not really a Holocaust novel at all. It is something different. And at least when it comes to the American novel, something better. The Pawnbroker is one of the last examples of a genre that has largely disappeared from American shores — the meaning-making novel, the novel with something to say, the novel with an overt and unembarrassed message."

All I have to say is that
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for a graduate course on the Holocaust in American Fiction. The narrative is dark/heavy, but I found that I couldn't put it down. I really enjoyed it.
Jul 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: holocaust
Great story! Be sure to see the movie with Rod Steiger in the lead role.
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An unflinching look at someone living in the aftermath of the Holocaust. A gripping story that holds the reader's attentin throughouot.
Brian Keiper
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Powerful. Moving. Like the movie based on it, this novel deserves far more attention than it receives.
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was dark, but I could not put it down! Would recommend. I received this book through Goodreads Firstreads.
Shirley Jackson
May 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Bleak, raw, sharply defined characters, each a complete portrait drawn with words. Unsentimentally reveals the extreme depths of emotion under the armor of emotionless behavior.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Pawnbroker is a very well written book. You know the characters, very well. There are fantastic descriptions of location. I didn't quite understand what he was going through physically during his moments of severe stress. I realize he was having a breakdown of sorts but usually that would be accompanied by hearing voices, paranoia etc. I then figured he was about to have a nervous breakdown, on the verge.
I found the dreams particularly disturbing in a deep way, especially the first dream. T
A relentlessly overblown and pretentious style, with sentences that frequently make you just stare at the page for a few seconds, before finally shaking your head and moving on (relegating them back to the murk). But the characters are strong, and the guy has a nice ear for dialogue. This one definitely looks like it could've been freed of about a quarter of its bulk by some enterprising editor (back in the days when editors still actually edited). It reminds me of Judith Merril's Shadow on the ...more
Tom Leland
Would give it five stars if rating was based on understanding of human character. But it's overwritten, and though I'm totally fine with bleakness, despair, atrocities, depression -- it was laid on much more thickly than necessary, and for me, cut my enjoyment. But a noble, and probably successful attempt at portraying the state of mind that complete evil can wreak on a person's soul.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Domagoj Čavrak
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Liz Markus
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
this is an incredible book that i can never read again because it’s too flippin’ intense; know that going in.
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Stunningly beautiful work of prose. It comes from a certain time but the characters and imagery were so rich.
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Wallant began to write professionally at age twenty nine. He had served in the Second World War as a gunner's mate. He attended the University of Connecticut and graduated from Pratt Institute and studied writing at The New School in New York. While he worked as an advertising art director, Wallant wrote at night.

Wallant died of an aneurysm at the age of 36.

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