The Manor and
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Elaine Gottlieb, and
University of Wisconsin)The fear I have is not that I won't be able to finish The Manor and the Estate, but that I will finish it too soon. It is an epic tale, told not in mock-epic style, but in proletarian-epic style. It concerns itself with the Calman family of Jampol, Poland, starting in the 1860s.
Maybe we should call it 'Yiddish Magical Realism.' The pages are overflowing with characters, weird, funny, sassy, greedy, hungry, pompous characters. As with most of Singer's writings, it spares no one: the rich, the fallen gentry, the poor, nor even some of the all-too-pious rabbis.Singer has the magician's ability to capture --- a word snapshot --- inhabitants of that fantastic land in just a few words: a man named Zawacki arrives at the count's manor, and, during supper, tells of his fascination with autopsy. The count's daughter has to be excused from the table:
"After awhile you get used to such things," he said. "Why, I sometimes had to boil human heads on my own stove."Or, this wonderous surge of run-on thoughts of the shoemaker Antony. He is talking of his son Marian, just back from Paris, having survived the siege:
A war started there and I read in the papers that a rabbit cost fifty francs. There the currency is francs, not guilders. A cat was fifteen francs, and one egg five francs. They have a park where they keep animals, and all the bears and peacocks and the others were eaten. My wife began to wail: 'Our Marian will starve to death!' But, somehow, he came back healthy, if emaciated. He said: 'Papa, I want to marry Countess Jampolska.' 'Where did you meet a Countess?' I asked. 'You may be a doctor, but your father is a shoemaker.' 'Well,' he said, 'times have changed.' What do they call it? De-mo-cracy. He said, 'Naked, we all stem from apes.' 'Well,' I said, 'if it's all right with her parents, it's all right with me. Your wife,' I said, 'will be like a daughter to me...'
"Francs ... not guilders ... bears ... peacocks ... healthy, if emaciated ... your father is a shoemaker ... Naked, we all stem from apes." What's not to love here?
The whole of The Manor and the Estate goes 818 pages. I'm half way through the first of two books. You should be so lucky.
--- Ruth Landisman