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The Assistant

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3.89  ·  Rating details ·  9,301 ratings  ·  480 reviews
Bernard Malamud’s second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who “wants better” for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalen ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published July 7th 2003 by Farrar Straus and Giroux (first published 1957)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,301 ratings  ·  480 reviews


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Ahmad Sharabiani
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Assistant, Bernard Malamud
he Assistant (1957) is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, it explores the situation of first- and second-generation Americans in the early 1950s as experienced by three main characters and the relationships between them: an aging Jewish refugee from the Russian Empire who owns and operates a failing small grocery store, a young Italian American drifter trying to overcome a bad start in life by becoming the groc
...more
[P]
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bitchin
Fucking hell. This has to be a contender for the most miserable novel of all time. In fact, only Germinal by Emile Zola could legitimately wrench the title from its grasp, and that book is so monumentally bleak that there are probably Goth kids reading it backwards right now. Tellingly, both Germinal and The Assistant deal with poverty. Of course there are a lot of really terrible things that can happen to a human being, but the constant worry, shame and ill-health caused by having no money is a ...more
Chrissie
Nov 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The power of the story pulled me in. The simplicity of the lines, the straightforward talk and the Jewish manner of speaking all weave together to produce a piece that is cohesive in tone and message.

The story follows a Jewish grocer's family in Brooklyn after the war. The daily grind of managing is vividly portrayed. To better one's self can feel insurmountable. If you have morals and what you should do further weigh you down, what choices do you make? What is success? What makes you a Jew? Is
...more
Bob Newman
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ganef Goes Straight, Becomes Schlimazl

In the Pirke Avot, the book of the Talmud in which we find a lot of maxims and sayings, we read that if a servant steals from you, you must forgive him/her. And if the servant steals again, you must forgive again. Morris Bober, a humble, luckless Jew from Russia running a failing grocery shop in New York (a schlimazl in other words), acts out this admonition in Malamud’s outstanding novel. He seems to have no faith, does not attend synagogue and there is no
...more
Michael
May 31, 2007 rated it liked it
There has been a bit of buzz about Malamud lately mostly due to his daughter’s recently published memoir, My Father Is a Book. Malamud is most often described as the under appreciated, overlooked middle child between the great Jewish-American novelists of the last century, Bellow and Roth. I can’t speak to that claim.

The Assistant is one of Malamud’s most acclaimed books and I have had it on my bookshelf for over a year. I can’t really remember why I bought it other than I had heard a bit about
...more
Alex
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
St. Francis of Assisi, the one with the birds, chose poverty.
'He gave everything away that he owned, every cent, all his clothes off his back. He enjoyed to be poor. He said poverty was a queen and he loved her like she was a beautiful woman.'

Sam shook his head. 'It ain't beautiful, kiddo. To be poor is dirty work.'

'He took a fresh view of things.'

Everyone is poor in The Assistant, desperately, grindingly poor, Raskolnikov poor, even Hunger poor. Morris Bober works 16-hour days in a dire grocery
...more
Joey
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fictions
TIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit
...more
Stela
Feb 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Stela by: Fewlas

The Disciple and the Jew

When Bernard Malamud explained his famous “All men are Jews” by the following: "I think it is an understandable statement and a metaphoric way of indicating how history, sooner or later treats all men." He seemed to suggest that Jewishness is not only a question of religion, but some sort of moral norm, that is, a synonym of redemption by suffering that marks mankind’s path to maturity.

Indeed, The Assistant seems to focus less on cultural and religious differences and mor
...more
Joseph Sciuto
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gem. A gem from Heaven. I ordered Mr. Malamud's "The Assistant" by accident and after reading it it is undeniably one mistake I am truly happy I made. It is a lyrical portrait of a struggling Jewish family in Brooklyn that owns a grocery store with a cast of characters that are so real, compassionate, and humbling that at times it filled my eyes with tears. Morris Bober, the father, a grocer, and conscience of this amazing novel only wants what is best for his family and in so doing offer ...more
Jennifer
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Tired of dragging myself around my small local library for hours, not finding what I wanted to read, I decided to challenge myself by reading a number of the Best 100 books by Time, Modern Library, etc. Some books (ahem, Ulysses - sorry Bloomians, but the man was just showing off) have been torture, but with some it has been like discovering pearls in an oyster. The Assistant by Bernard Malamud is one of those pearls.

Summaries I have seen say it is a book about a Jewish grocer in the fifties and
...more
Barry Pierce
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it
A interesting look at different cultures in post-WWII New York. I liked this novel overall. I feel that the message is more important than the plot however. (Also the very last paragraph is somewhat... unexpected) It's an interesting character study of the Jewish shopkeeper and his Italian "assistant". I can see why it's on the TIME 100 list and I really do want to read more Malamud, I think I'll like him.
Lobstergirl
Sep 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction

One of the bleakest novels about Jewish grocers I've ever read.
atla
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
When I picked this up, I had somehow gotten under the impression that The Assistant won the National Book Award in the 50's. I've only today learned that it was actually Malamud's later novel, The Fixer, that won the award (as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) in 1967. C'est la vie.

I wish I could decide how I feel about this novel, which portrays the lives of first and second generation Jewish immigrants in America in the 1950's. I found Malamud's writing style easy to adjust to and pleasa
...more
Realini
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-again
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
Exhilarating- 10 out of 10!!

In a sentence- this book is exactly what I love.
It is a classic novel, at least for this reader.
Reading it was such an exquisite pleasure that I stopped when I realized how rare this experience is and left it aside.
Because I find it hard to discover new, meaningful and acclaimed books that satisfy and agree with me, I read them slowly.
In fact, the plan is to return to books that I loved – The Death of the Heart, Flannery O’Connor and mo
...more
Priti
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"But tell me why it is that the Jews suffer so damn much, Morris? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" This is a question raised in the book and I wanted to raise my own “why there is so much suffering in the book and why was I unable to put the damn thing away?”
After I finished I looked up the internet to see the face of the man who had penned this intense and moving human story. In one of his older pics he looked a little like Mahatma Gandhi, with a little more hair of course
...more
Cor T
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is plenty of suffering to go around in the owning and operating of a Jewish grocery in Brooklyn in the early 1950s, but though the story deals with harsh realities, it manages to be an uplifting story of human growth and change.

The action is confined to a two-block area, where a few Jewish merchants compete for the daily demands of the Gentile neighborhood, a competition in which a few extra pennies is worth opening earlier than the other stores. Morris Bober, the grocer, escaped from the
...more
Giulia (juliareadingdiary)
*3.5/5 stars.

Considered to be a classic of XX century American literature, The Assistant centers around Morris Bober, an honest and miserable jewish shopkeeper that struggles to keep his grocery store open and to provide to his family. After being robbed and hit in the head, Morris meets Frank Alpine, who offers to work for free and help with his shop. The story is very simple but supported by a strong character study and a precise picture of a social context (‘50s, Jewish people, New York); Mal
...more
Matthew Berg
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[Original review]
This is merely a placeholder for a proper review. Though short, this book is dense with heady topics and characters which evince a nuanced psychology, individually and in the intersections of their lives.

It would be easy to write the book off as hopelessly bleak, but there is real hope and redemption here.

[Update]
This is a book I know will bear much reflection, revisiting and eventually, rereading. This is at least in part because it aligns perfectly with my own preoccupation wi
...more
Ben Raymond
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I started The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, I figured it’d be extremely boring and light in plot. A book which details were the meat and potatoes while the plot itself and the story it tells are the sides. I found this to be false when Frank Alpine, an Italian who rolled into the store helping the storekeeper, Morris, because of an injury he got during an armed robbery. Frank started off polite helping Morris. Throughout the book, you learn of his sad beginning, and how that influenced him ...more
John Pistelli
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Spoilers.

The Assistant (1957) is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Frank Alpine, its eponymous anti-hero, becomes a clerk in the failing Brooklyn grocery store of Morris Bober after Bober is robbed and assaulted. The Italian-American orphan and drifter Alpine slowly intricates himself into the ways and values of the Jewish Bober family; he comes to admire the old man's goodness and persistence and to fall in love with Helen, the Bobers' smart, ambitious daughter.

Both bad luck and moral weakness a
...more
Vonia
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish
The Assistant, the second novel from a Pulitzer Prize winner, was undeniably a philosophical, meaningful story with use of various themes as well as masterful use of symbolism. A well written, character focused story, yet simple to understand, read, and, most importantly, identify with.

I realize that there was a meaning, a reason, for the extreme use of Jewish sentiment here. But I do have to say that it was too much for me. The many proclamations of the gentile, "Goys", the necessity of marryi
...more
Michael Scott
Jan 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The Assistant, my first read from Malamud's oeuvre, revolves around the premise that redemption and failure are two inseparable parts of the commoner's life. This premise is conveyed through the tragic story of three main characters, Morris Bober, the owner of a grocery, Helen, his daughter, and Frank Alpine, the thug-hero of the plot and assistant of Morris. Cornered by poverty, the characters try in turn to redeem themselves from past mistakes, but life keeps letting them down. This touching p ...more
Phillip
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 11th-grade
This book focuses on the lives of two men, Morris and Frank. Morris owns a grocery store and Frank is a fresh immigrant. Frank steals food from Morris and Morris kicks him out. One day the store was robbed and Morris was knocked unconcious and instead Frank helped run the store. Business improved with Frank's help and Morris decided to hire Frank once he recover. Frank unwillingly steals a tiny portion of Morris's earnings due to emergency issues. Morris catches him and kicks him out. Frank then ...more
Marc
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read 'The Natural' long ago and enjoyed it but found it disturbing. Malamud was a little dense for my pop-fiction palette. Last year I read his complete collected stories and discovered a virtuoso wordsmith. In short, the stories blew me away. I was excited when my girlfriend gave me 'The Assistant' but concerned that an entire novel of his intricately knitted prose might be better than I could appreciate.
This is a great novel . . . A GREAT NOVEL! Not a charcter underwritten in the batch, not
...more
James
Feb 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Despite the simplicity of the story I find it very difficult to summarize. Which either is a function of the multi layered depth the author managed to infuse into his story or it's an indication of how weirdly dated it all is. An immigrant grocer watches his business fail bit by bit consigning his and his wife and daughters prospects to ashes, after a brutal robbery a weirdly insistent man shows up forcing his help and more on the family. Glad I read it just not sure how I feel about it at all.
Lukasz Pruski
May 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Pain was for poor people. [...] Everything to him who has."

It is a challenge to review Bernard Malamud's The Assistant (1957), an acclaimed novel, virtually an "American classic." For instance, Time magazine included it in its list of "100 best English-language novels published since 1923," yet I have been totally unable to appreciate the novel, even if I admire the author's human-centered message. I strongly dislike the writing and the narrative style, and in fact it is difficult for me to eve
...more
Jason
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Helga Cohen
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Assistant was set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It explores 1st and 2nd generation Americans in the 1950’s. Morris Bober, 60, is a Jewish refugee from Russia who owns and operates a failing small grocery store. A young Italian American, Frank Alpine, becomes an assistant to the grocer after he becomes injured. Frank wants to overcome his bad start in life but in spite of that steals from the store and becomes involved with the grocers daughter, Helen. He falls in lov ...more
João Reis
The style is agreeable but the story is quite boring. Malamud draggs the story to the point of boredom, so instead of adding layers to the characters, he just makes them dull. Lacking the irony or writing capacities of other American Jewish writers such as P. Roth or Bellow, his style, though agreeable, falls short and appears to be flat, so the simple storyline is sometimes read as a cheesy melodrama. In the end, the moralistic undertones do also turn the book into something somewhat repelling, ...more
Zack! Empire
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prose-novels
The best Novel I've read in a good long while. It's a really simple story, but it's so well written and well told, it just draws you in. I kept flipping pages because I just wanted to know what happen!
The story is very bleck, but I think it makes it better. It's not the nice "Hollywood" ending where everyone is happy and smiling. No, it's the "Real World" ending, where everything doesn't really work out, and you don't really get what you want, you get just enough.
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Bernard Malamud was an author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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