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Uittreksel Bernard Malamud - The Fixer

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Extracts English Literature
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Bernard Malamud - The Fixer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York (1966)

Title:

Yakov Bok, the main character in the novel, works as a handyman or a fixer. He fixes what's broken.

Author:

Bernard Malamud was born and educated in New York City, in 1914. He held various jobs before becoming a teacher of English in 1939. Bernard was one of a group of Jewish-American authors which also include Philip Roth, Herbert Gold, J.D. Salinger and Saul Bellow. Bernard died in 1986.

Other work by the author:

The Natural

The literary period:

The second part of the Twentieth century.

The genre:

Historical novel.

Summary:

Aged 30, Yakov Bok makes a poor living as a handyman in a Jewish village in Russia. His wife Raisl has deserted him. Yakov decides to go to Kiev to build a new life. He trades his cow for an old horse and wagon to Shmuel, Raisl's father. He sets off with just a small bundle of books, his precious tools and some small savings.

Arriving in Kiev, Yakov first stays in the Jewish quarter. He soon finds that he can't make a better living there. He decides to venture out of the Jewish ghetto, looking for work. One evening he finds a man lying on his face in the snow. Yakov tries to help him, but notices a badge of the Black Hundreds, a fierce anti-Semitic organisation. When asked by a crippled girl, he helps the man, although he fears the man's reaction once he finds out Yakov is a Jew. As a reward for his help Nikolai Maximovitch offers Yakov a well-paid job repainting and papering a flat above his home.

Pleased with his work, Nikolai offers Yakov a permanent job at his brickworks in the Lukianovsky district, an area forbidden to Jews. At the building site Yakov makes enemies of the foreman Proshko and the lorry drivers, because he discovers they've been stealing bricks. Proshko suspects Yakov is a Jew and awaits his chance to take revenge.

On a snowy evening in April Yakov saves an old Jew from some boys who are attacking him. Although Yakov realises the danger, he takes the old Jew back to his room to dress his wound and let him wait until the snowfall ends. The next day a dead child is found in a cave near the brickworks. Propaganda accuses the Jews of killing the boy as a part of their Passover rituals. Frightened, Yakov decides to flee, but he is arrested as he leaves the room.

Yakov is interrogated by Bibikov, the Investigating Magistrate. Bibikov is sympathetic with Yakov and wants to limit the charge against Yakov to living in a forbidden area under an assumed name. The Prosecuting Attorney, Grubeshov, is however determined to convict Yakov for the murder on the Christian boy. Yakov is taken to the boy's mother and shown the mutilated body in the cave. A priest, a supposed expert on Jewish religion, declares that the Jews ritually kill Christians and drink their blood or bake it into matzos.

After some initial beatings, Yakov gets along fairly well with his fellow prisoners. He makes friends with Gronfein, a rich Jewish counterfeiter, but Gronfein turns his back on him for his own freedom. It turns out Bibikov is his only hope. He's trying his best to prove Yakov's innocence, but ends up in jail himself. In jail Bibikov is killed. The murder has been made to look like a suicide. Yakov spends three years in prison before he is finally brought to trial. During his time in prison he has little to occupy himself and no one to talk to. He often has dreams or hallucinations. Once Schmuel comes to talk with him, but that is discovered. After that Yakov is chained to the wall by day and to his wooden bed by night. Although his life is made a living hell, Yakov refuses to admit his guilt, even though he's offered personal freedom in exchange for it.

It turns out Yakov has to wait because Grubeshov is still unable to come up with a watertight case. At last a lawyer visits Yakov and Yakov realises that, insignificantl as he is, he's chosen to play an important role for the Jewish cause in Russia. The Czar and the Russian state are determined to find Yakov guilty, but there are people who dare to maintain his innocence: scientists, journalists, a few lawyers and, of course, many Jews.

Before Yakov leaves the prison for his trial, there is a small incident in which the Deputy Warden kills a guard, friendly to Yakov. During his journey to the courthouse, he has to move through dense crowds. A bomb is thrown towards his carriage, which severely wounds the Cossacks guarding the carriage. Yakov imagines himself killing Czar Nicholas II. The anti-hero has become a hero.

Time:

About four years are described in the novel. The story starts in 1911. Except for the first section, the story is in chronological order.

Setting:

The story is set in the Russia of the last czar; Czar Nicholas II. The story plays in a small Jewish village and in Kiev.

Characters and relationships:

Yakov Bok:

In a life limited by anti-Semitic laws, Yakov does his best to educate himself, hoping to liberate his mind. In all other things Yakov is passive. Yakov drifts into his marriage with Raisl and can't leave her until she left him. He lets circumstances determine his life and things go from bad to worse.

Raisl and her father Schmuel:

After Raisl left Yakov, he trades his cow with Shmuel and leaves them. Both come to see Yakov in the prison. After Schmuel's visit is discovered, Yakov is punished. Raisl asks him to sign for the fatherhood of her child. Yakov does so even though he's not the true father.

Nicolai Maximovitch:

Yakov saves him, when he finds him drunk in the snow. As a reward Nicolai offers Yakov a job at his brickworks.

Proshko and the lorry drivers:

They grow to be enemies of Yakov very fast, as Yakov discovers they're stealing bricks from Nicolai. Proshko wants revenge and the killing of the boy is the way he tries to get it.

Credibility:

….

Theme:

The fate of a man who is caught up in large movements of history, he cannot influence or understand. A secondary theme is human freedom.

Motto:

None.

Linguistic usage:

Malamud uses a quite formal style.

Dedication:

None.

Perspective:

The story is told through the eyes of Yakov Bok. Much of the story happens in his mind.

Construction:

The book consists of 9 untitled parts, subdivided into 43 smaller chapters. The book has 300 pages.

Own opinion on the book:

Your opinion!

(1952, novel), The Assistant (1957, novel), The Magic Barrel (1958, short stories), A New Life (1961, novel), Idiots first (1963, short stories), God's Grace (1982, novel)

 

Time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things.

Tijd, geduld, en volharding zullen alles bereiken.

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