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Vivian Gornick's review of the new Isaac Bashevis Singer biography is dense and I am not sure I fully understand it. But I have read a lot of Singer's stories and always end up with a feeling of utter despair. I have never been sure what to make of him.

What I, however, have always kept from Singer is a comment he made at the start of his story Shosha: His people had lived in Poland for almost a thousand years yet spoke hardly any Polish. Their lives were regulated by two dead languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, and all thought was devoted to knowing the rituals appropriate for a Temple which had ceased to exist 1900 years earlier.

This is the culture Arnold Toynbee called a fossil, for which he was attacked as an anti-Semite. But any attempt to make this fossilized culture meaningful is doomed to failure. Singer knew this.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Feb 16 2007 - 10:58am

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