Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club discussion

The Fixer
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Past Reads > The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, pages 151 to 300

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George (georgejazz) | 530 comments Mod
Please comment here on The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, pages 151 to 300.

Irene | 586 comments I read this a couple of years ago. It was so dark that I can't bring myself to read it a second time.

George (georgejazz) | 530 comments Mod
I am 80% through this novel and I can understand not being able to reread it. It is a very well told story about the plight of being a Jew in Kiev, Russia, before World War I. The descriptions of life in prison are particularly harrowing.

Irene | 586 comments I agree, very well written, but the sense of hopelessness is so strong it felt as if it might suffocate me. A sign of a well written book that it could draw such a strong emotional response from the reader.

message 5: by George (last edited Jan 05, 2018 03:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George (georgejazz) | 530 comments Mod
I finished the novel over a day ago. I found the story thought provoking. The descriptions of prison life made the book a tough read, however Yakov's mind journey made for a satisfying reading experience. There are a number of interesting characters and events in the novel to propel the story forward.

I will try to answer most of the discussion questions below in the next day or so.

I have taken the following discussion questions from the LitLovers website.

1. What is the thematic significance of the title? Why is the novel called, "The Fixer"?

2. The New York Times reviewer, Eliot Fremont-Smith wrote that all Malamud's books deal with the theme of redemption: redemption being...

the movement from "fate or the way things unspeakably individual acts of courage or conscience" and to the realization that "hope is part of the way things are, part of what is given."

In what way, then, might The Fixer be seen as a story of redemption?

3. Why does Yakov leave the shtetl for Kiev? What is he looking for, what does he want? Might Malamud be drawing a possible parallel between Adam & Eve...or Faust?

4. Following up on Question 3: is there a way in which Yakov is responsible for his misfortunes...or is he thoroughly passive, a victim of fate and the machinations of a corrupt system? Does it matter when it comes to how we view Yakov—as hero...or victim...or martyr? Or is he all of those? Or none?

5. Why does Bibikov, the prosecutor, come to believe in Yakov's innocence?

6. Why does Yakov reject religion. Why, even when imprisoned and subjected to brutality, does he not seek solace in God? What does the philosopher Spinoza's teachings offer him that he doesn't find in Judaism? You might do some investigation of Spinoza's life—his ideas and works.

7. Yakov and his father-in-law debate whether God has abandoned Yakov, or Yakov abandoned God? Which do you think? Has Yakov been singled out to bear the punishment of humankind? This is a central question of the Book of Job, as well as The Fixer. Does that question still have resonance today, in the 21st century?

8. In what way is Yakov transformed during his harrowing years in prison?

9. Comment on this passage from The Fixer: "In chains all that was left of freedom was life, just existence; but to exist without choice was the same as death." Yes? No? (Existentialists, like Jean Paul Sarte, believe that we always have choice—even in chains. So...following this passage's logic, it would mean that life has worth—chains or not.)

10. Talk about the historical roots—and practice—of anti-semitism in Russia. Do some research into the many pogroms Jews were subjected to throughout the millennia. How was anti-semitism manifested throughout Europe, Britain, and America...even before the Holocaust. Has the face of anti-semitism changed today?

11. Can you compare The Fixer to other works you might have read in which an individual confronts an unjust, brutal monolithic state—works by Camus ... Orwell ... Dostoyevsky ... Solzhenitsyn ... the myth of Prometheus? Others?

12. The book ends as Yakov is finally to undergo his trial, a long awaited event. What do you think the verdict will be? Given the logic of the narrative, will he be found innocent or guilty?

13. Malamud's story is based on a real murder in Russia and the imprisonment and trial of Mendel Bielis. Beilis was eventually exonerated—after his plight became an international cause celebre. Does this knowledge change the way you see this story? Does it undermine Malamud's intent in The Fixer? Does it lessen Yakov's struggle with life's meaning — or rob him of redemption? Or none of these?

George (georgejazz) | 530 comments Mod
Q. 1. The title, The Fixer seems a little ironic to me. Yakov, whilst a handyman, isn't able to fix anything once he is imprisoned.

Q. 2. Yes, the book is about redemption. Each moment of hope that Yakov experiences is dashed out by cruelty and deception. Yakov’s decency is met with crushing punishment by autocratic state officials. In prison Yakov is isolated, poisoned, beaten, lied to, shackled and humiliated. He is an ignorant, disavowed Jew. He is non-political. Yakov’s only solution is patience, endurance and acceptance. He must forgive 'life' for his lot, his shortcomings as a man. He must forgive his wife for leaving him. Yakov must accept that he is not a free acting man. He is a Jew. He is courageous and lives in hope.
Q. 12. I do not think it matters what the outcome of the trial will be. Yakov has become a stronger person. He has suffered and survived.
Q. 13. Knowing Beilis was exonerated doesn't change my appreciation of The Fixer.

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