Chrissie's Reviews > The Fixer

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
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really liked it
bookshelves: religion, hf, classics, 2-itunes-library, 2017-read, audible-uk, philo-psychol, soviet-union, ukraine

I am going to start with some quotes. Taste them, enjoy them and then roll them around in your head.

If I have any philosophy”, said Yakov Bok, “it is that life could be better than it is.

One thing I’ve learned", he thought, "there’s no such thing as an unpolitical man, especially a Jew. You can’t be one without the other, that’s clear enough. You can’t sit still and see yourself destroyed.

Yakov reflects as he goes to his trial, “What is it Spinoza says? If the state acts in ways that are abhorrent to human nature it’s the lesser evil to destroy it. Death to the anti-Semites! Long live revolution!”

In discussing Spinoza the investigating magistrate asks Yakov how one can achieve freedom if all life is bound by “Necessity” (determinism). Yakov replies, “That's in your thought, your honor, if your thought is in God. That's if you believe in this kind of God; that's if you reason it out. It's as if a man flies over his own head on the wings of reason, or some such thing. You join the universe and forget your worries.”

This book is an intense, gripping depiction of discrimination of the Jews in Czarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. It is based on the incarceration of Menahem Mendel Beilis, which eventually lead to trial in 1913. We are given a fictionization of the arrest and two and half years in prison awaiting trial. In the fictional account, the imprisoned Jew is Yakov Bok, apolitical, a freethinker and unreligious. He is your Everyman. He has left his wife, his father in law and the shtetl, all that had ever been home. Six years married, still no child and his wife has left him for a lover. In Kiev, he hopes to make something of himself, but it is in Kiev that he is accused of killing and draining blood from a Christian child. It is Passover and the blood is supposedly a necessary ingredient for the holiday matzos. He is accused of ritual murder. That he has rejected Judaism and that he declares himself to be a freethinker is discounted. The truth is if it were not him another Jew would have been accused. He was there, at the wrong place and at the wrong time, and he is Jewish by birth. It is his treatment during incarceration that is so intense and so gripping. It is brutal and in no way an easy read.

Yakov’s mental and psychological transformation is the second element of the story. Here ugly horror is balanced by hope. Maybe….. Spinoza is brought into the context of the story over and over again. Yakov is no philosopher. He is just your ordinary man trying, if only marginally, to improve himself. He had come across the Spinoza book at a flea market, and picked it up for a kopek. A wasted kopek most probably, but then he started reading and it made a place in his thoughts most definitely! He is struggling to make sense of life. In prison forces are physically and mentally annihilating him. Conversely, he is struggling to cope and to find a reason for living. See what I have underlined in the last quote above.

I might say that the story goes on a bit too long. Hallucinations at the book’s end detract from the story’s believability and impact. They are too clever, too after-the-fact.

The book is about racism and prejudicial discrimination. It is not really philosophical, but you watch how philosophy changes Yakov. The telling is matter of fact, down to earth, but intense.

The narration of the audiobook, by Victor Bevine, is very well done. I had no problem following any of the lines.

Punlished in 1966, The Fixer won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for fiction. Menahem Mendel Beilis’ descendants claim that Malamud had plagiarized the English edition of their memoir. See Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis: Includes: Beilis's Memoir, the Story of My Sufferings; And Pulitzer Plagiarism: What Bernard Malamud's the Fixer Owes to the Memoir of Mendel Beilis. It can be difficult to separate source material and creative innovation. Views differ.
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Reading Progress

March 19, 2017 – Shelved
March 19, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
March 19, 2017 – Shelved as: wishlist-f
March 19, 2017 – Shelved as: religion
March 19, 2017 – Shelved as: hf
March 19, 2017 – Shelved as: classics
March 20, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: wishlist-f
August 21, 2017 – Shelved as: own-unlistened
August 21, 2017 – Shelved as: 2-itunes-library
August 21, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-read
August 21, 2017 – Shelved as: audible-uk
September 16, 2017 – Started Reading
September 18, 2017 – Shelved as: philo-psychol
September 18, 2017 – Shelved as: soviet-union
September 18, 2017 – Shelved as: ukraine
September 18, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Carmen (new) - added it

Carmen Great review! I'm adding this.


Chrissie Thank you, Carmen. It is very intense, but I believe I have made that clear. It is my favorite so far by the author.


message 3: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, Great review. I've heard about this book for years but never knew exactly what it was about. I'm going to add it. I think I'd like it.


message 4: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 18, 2017 10:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie Lisa, thank you. I do think you will "like" it, even if like is not the correct word. It makes you feel that you are yourself a persecuted Jew. It is horrifying. The writing is amazingly intense. OK, maybe it was based on Beilis' memoir but did that make the reader feel as this book does? The value of q book is not merely its contents but also HOW the story is told, the words with which it is expressed.

It is fascinating now reading the memoir about the author written by his daughter; My Father Is a Book. My immediate opinion is that she does not have the talent her father had in expressing himself, but it contains interesting information.


message 5: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I'll be interested in your final opinion on the daughter's book, Chrissie. This one sounds very good.


Chrissie OK. TheFixer is so far my favorite by Malamud.


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