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The Manor & The Estate
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1001 book reviews > The Manor, by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 466 comments This book is a sort of Polish version of East of Eden, a huge, sprawling, family saga, epic novel that shows life in Poland under Russian occupation, and the transitions going on in society during the 1800's. The political and historical events going on in Poland are not in focus in this book, because the story focuses on an Orthodox Jewish family that was initially self-isolated from the modern world. That isolation becomes increasingly tattered and fragmentary with each new generation, and even the older members of the family find themselves living in ways they could never have dreamed of during their isolationist Orthodox years. Most of the family still claims a Jewish identity throughout the story, but what that means changes a lot over the course of each person's life.
I liked this book. I could see why it was split into 2 books- it is a dense story with lots of characters and places and events, and after a while the different characters do tend to get easily muddled and confusing. Keeping track of which children were whose, and who married whom, and which characters knew each other or liked each other was tough, and a notepad might have been a useful reading aide for this book. I may reread it later, since I know I missed a few things towards the middle and not all of the family drama after that made much sense as a result. Also, I don't know a lot about Polish history, so I missed references to what was going on outside the family's dramas. Still, this was a good book, well written and well-translated, and worth reading in its entirety. It brings up all sorts of questions and ideas about identity, belief, and tradition, and shows an interesting side of Poland, the Orthodox Jewish community, that is a bit different from what I usually think of when I think about Poland.
I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. I'd lean more towards 4.5 stars, if we had half-points though, and in my own system I gave it a 7.8 (I use a decimal system, 1.0-10.0, for my own spreadsheets).

message 2: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
great review. This sounds really interesting.

message 3: by Dree (new)

Dree | 243 comments This totally sounds like my kind of book! And I keep character lists for books like this!

message 4: by Gail (last edited Feb 19, 2021 01:33PM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1268 comments The Manor is a sprawling family saga that takes place during a time of extreme transitions for the Orthodox patriarch, Calman Jacoby and his daughters. The book begins in the 1860's after Russia has forced Poland to submit to the Tzar and many Polish nobles are exiled. Up until this time, the Orthodox Jews in Poland have lived isolated lives both by government edict and by cultural choice. They wear Asian clothing different from other Poles, do not speak Polish but Yiddish, and are not allowed to even enter towns without paying a fee. This all changes when Russia takes over. Although the book does not focus on the history of Poland much less the history of Europe, the reader is aware of the forces of industrialization, the rise of scientific thoughts, working class revolutions and the impact of all manner of radical thinking throughout the book.
For Calman's daughters, marriage is really their only choice in life and Calman provides dowries that include supporting the groom for 10 years so that they may get on their feet and study the Talmud. Most of the marriages are arranged. The marriages highlight the tension between Jews and Catholics, the poor and the rich, the assimilationists and the Orthodox, and even those who do not believe in God and those who do. The stories layer on top of each other as lovers are introduced, children grow up and have lives of their own and as even Calman struggles to remain a good Jew.
The Manor does not tie up nicely after its 440 pages as The Estate is really the second half of the same book. The Manor, however, is the one on the 1001 list.
I agree with Jamie: 4.5 stars (and now I want to read The Estate)

message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane | 2022 comments Rating: 4.5 stars

I have no idea why this isn't a far more popular book than it is. This is such a wonderfully written book. The book takes place in an Orthodox Jewish community in Poland during late 19th century, in a time period of rapid social changes. It's a great insight into the cultural traditions and lifestyles of the Jewish community during that time and place.

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