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The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
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it was amazing


I first read Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer", which I picked up for the now unimaginable sum of ten pence in a charity shop, over a dozen years ago. It struck me at that time as a powerful and even important work. Reading it again so many years later I wondered how it would hold up.

Yakov Bok, the Fixer of the title, is a free-thinking Jew whose trade is that of a handyman from the Pale in the Ukraine (where Jews are legally allowed to reside) in the last years of the Tsarist regime not long after the disastrous war that Russia lost against Japan, the aborted revolution that followed that defeat and the pogroms that diverted the Russian people down channels that were more acceptable to the Russian state.

Life is not going well for Bok, his wife has ran away with a Goy and work is hard to find within the Pale. He eventually bites the bullet, sells up and decides to move to nearby Kiev to look for a chance to improve his situation, perhaps to earn enough and emigrate from Russia. After a period of hardship in Kiev Bok hits on some "luck" and gains the patronage of a Russian gentleman, some well paid employment before eventually being offered the position of foreman at the Russian's Brick-factory. Everything is going well, except the Russian is a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds who doesn't know that Bok is of Jewish extraction. The factory is also sited in an area of Kiev that is out of bounds to Jews. When a twelve year old Christian boy is "ritually" murdered not far from the factory, a worker who Bok had previously caught thieving and who suspects that he is Jewish raises suspicions about him with the Police. Bok is arrested, his identity as a Jew is quickly ascertained and he becomes the number one suspect for the murder of the boy. The world that then envelops him makes Josef K's experience in "The Trial" seem like a holiday.

"The Fixer" is an extraordinary work of literature, written for the most part in an understated manner that never the less contains some extremely powerful writing. Bok, as a character comes alive for the reader with great vividness without him being portrayed simply as a victim. Essentially a realistic novel, it does contain passages of almost hallucinatory terror that stick in the readers mind long after it is finished, though on occasions during the middle section I felt this was perhaps overdone, devaluing to an extent the otherwise impeccable realism that is the "The Fixers" major strength. The book appears (and my knowledge of Tsarist Russia before the 1917 revolution is far from encyclopedic) to have a firm rooting in historical experience, and conveys with regard to the Russian characters a sense of the divisions and clashes between an authoritarian establishment and some of the liberal groups and personalities of the time. It's disappointing that this book isn't better known and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has time for writing that makes them both think and feel.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 28, 2013 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Zanna (new) - added it

Zanna Sounds really interesting - going on tbr!

Simon Wood Thank you. Definitely worth a read.

Susan Keyock I trust you do know pogroms actually happened?

Simon Wood Yes I do. Though not sure how you got the impression that I didn't?

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