A Guzlowski Sampler

Why My Mother Stayed with My Father

She knew he was worthless the first time
she saw him: his small size, his blind eye,
the way his clothes carried the smell
of the dead men who wore them before.

In America she learned he couldn’t fix a leak
or drive a nail straight. He knew nothing
about the world, the way the planets moved,
the tides. The moon was just a hole in the sky,

electricity a mystery as great as death.
The first time lightning shorted the fuses,
he fell to his knees and prayed to Blessed Mary
to bring back the miracle of light and lamps.

He was a drunk too. Some Fridays he drank
his check away as soon as he left work.
When she’d see him stagger, she’d knock him down
and kick him till he wept. He wouldn’t crawl away.

He was too embarrassed. Sober, he’d beg
in the bars on Division for food or rent
till even the drunks and bartenders
took pity on this dumb polack.

My father was like that, but he stayed
with her through her madness in the camps
when she searched among the dead for her sister,
and he stayed when it came back in America.

Maybe this was why my mother stayed.
She knew only a man worthless as mud,
worthless as a broken dog would suffer
with her through all of her sorrow.

Hunger in the Labor Camps

1. What My Father Ate

He ate what he couldn’t eat,
what his mother taught him not to:
brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
beneath his gray dark fingernails.

He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
He ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
He ate what would kill a man

in the normal course of his life:
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
small enough to get into his mouth.
He ate roots. He ate newspaper.

In his slow clumsy hunger
he did what the birds did, picked
for oats or corn or any kind of seed
in the dry dung left by the cows.

And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that.

And the other men did the same.

2. What a Starving Man Has

He has his skin. He has a thinness
to his eyes no bread will ever redeem.
He has no belly and his long muscles
stand out in relief as if they’d been flayed.

He is a bony mule with the hard eyes
one encounters in nightmares or in hell,
and he dreams of cabbage and potatoes
the way a boy dreams of women’s breasts.

They come uncalled for, round and fevered
like rain that will never stop. There is always
the empty sea in his belly, rising
falling and seeking land, and next to him

there’s always another starving man who says,
“Help me, Brother. I am dying here.”

3. Among Sleeping Strangers

The moon set early and it grew darker,
and the men settled to sleep in the cold
without blankets. Soon it would be spring
but it was still cold, and it was always cold

at night, and they did what men always did
at night when they were cold. They pressed their bodies
together and looked for warmth the way a man
who has nothing will look, expecting nothing

and thankful to God for the little he finds,
and the night was long as it always was
and some men crawled roughly across the others
to reach an outside wall to relieve themselves,

and some men started coughing and the coughing
entered the dreams of some of the other men
and they remembered the agony
of their mothers and grandfathers dying

of hunger or cholera, their lungs coughed up
in blood-streaked phlegm, and some men dreamt
down deeper and deeper against the cold
till they came somehow to that holy moment

in the past when they were warm and full
and loved, and the sun in those dreams rose early
and set late and the days were full of church bells
and the early spring flowers that stirred their lives

and in the morning the man shook away
from the cold bodies of their brothers
and remembered everything they had lost,
their wives and sisters, their lovers, their homes

their frozen fingers, their fathers, the soil
they’d been born on, the souls they’d been born with,
and then they crawled up out of the earth
and gathered together to work in the dawn.

4. The Germans

These men belonged to the Germans
the way a mule belonged to the Germans
and the Germans stood watching

their hunger and then their deaths,
watched them as if they were dead trees
in the wind, and waited for them to fall,

and some of the men did. They sank
to their knees like children begging
forgiveness for sins they couldn’t recall,

or they failed to rise when the others did
and were left in the wet gray fields
where the Germans watched them

and the Germans stood watching
when the men who were still hungry
came back and lifted the dead men

and carried their thin bones to the barn,
and buried them there before eating the soup
that wouldn’t have kept them alive.

The Germans knew a starving man
needed more than soup and more than bread
but still they stood and watched.


They’ll never see it again, these old Poles
with their dreams of Poland. My father
told me when I was a boy that those who tried
in ‘45 were turned back at the borders

by shoeless Russians dressed in rags and riding
shaggy ponies. The Poles fled through the woods,
the unlucky ones left behind, dead
or what’s worse wounded, the lucky ones

gone back to wait in the old barracks
in the concentration and labor camps
in Gatersleben or Wildflecken
for some miracle that would return them

to Poznan or Katowice. But God
wasn’t listening or His hands were busy
somewhere else. Later, in America
these Poles gathered with their brothers

and with their precious sons and daughters
every May 3, Polish Constitution Day,
to pray for the flag. There was no question
then what the colors stood for, red for all

that bleeding sorrow, white for innocence.
And always the old songs telling the world
Poland would never fall so long as poppies
flower red, and flesh can conquer rock or steel.

These Poles never learned what their children
always learn, that those left behind
leave the past behind. Borders stay open only
in the dreams of those dying on this side.




She has the peasants' view of the world:
Disorder and chaos, roads that end
In marshy fields, chickens that begin
To bleed from the mouth for no reason.
Nobody makes movies of such lives
She says, and begins to tell me the story
Of when the Americans first came,
Of the sergeant who stood with a suitcase
In the yard between the barracks.

He was shouting, screaming.
They didn't know what he wanted
And feared him. One of the women
Came out (first, she hid her children
Under the bed) and then another.
They knew he wasn't a German.
When fifteen of them stood in the yard,
He opened the suitcase, emptied
Its deutsche marks on the ground,
Said in broken German, "This is for you,
Take it, this is the money they owe you."

And then the British came,
And put them in another camp,
Where the corpses still had not been buried,
Where the water was bad, where my mother
Got sick, where her stool was as red
As the beets she had to dig everyday.

And my father worked hard, sawing
The wood, getting ready for winter,
Like he did in Poland. He knew this work
And did it for her and the children,
My sister and me. But the British
Moved them again, to another camp,
And they had to leave the wood, even though
My father tried to carry some on his back.
And it was cold in the new place, and some
Of the babies died, and my sister was very sick,
Maybe from drinking the dirty water.


Sometimes, my mother says, her home
West of Lvov comes back to her in dreams
That open in grayness with the sounds
Of a young, flowered girl in white
Singing a prayer of first communion,
The dirt streets around the church pure
With priests and girls and boys.

The singing prayer leads her to the grave
Where her mother and her sister Genja
And her sister's baby daughter lie,
The marshy grave where the hungry men
Dropped them after shooting them
And cutting them in secret places.

My mother says, these men from the east
Were like buffaloes: terrible and big.

She waves the dreams away with her hand
And starts again, talking of plowing the fields
Of cutting winter wood, of that time
When the double-bladed axe slipped
And sank a wound so deep in her foot
That she felt her heart would not
Jar loose from its frozen pause.


She tells me of the beets she dug up
In Germany. They were endless, redder
Than roses gone bad in an early frost,
Redder than a grown man's kidney or heart.

The first beet she remembers,
She was alone in the field, alone
Without her father or mother near,
No sister even. They were all dead,
Left behind in Lvov. The ground was wet
And cold, but not soft, never soft.

She ate the raw beet, even though
She knew they would beat her.

She says, sometimes she pretended
She was deaf, stupid, crippled,
Or diseased with Typhus or cholera,
Even with what the children called
The French disease, anything to avoid

The slap, the whip across her back
The leather fist in her face above her eye.
If she could've given them her breasts
To suck, her womb to penetrate
She would have, just so they will not
Hurt her the way they hurt her sister
And her mother and the baby.

She wonders what was her reward
For living in such a world? It was not love
Or money. She can't even remember
What happened to the deutsche marks
The American sergeant left that day
In the spring when the war ended.

She wonders if God will remember
Her labors. She wonders if there is a God.


My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.

She learned that if you are stupid
With your hands you will not survive
The winter even if you survive the fall.

She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.

She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.

She learned that you don't pray
Your enemies will not torment you.
You only pray that they will not kill you.

My Students and Their Essays

They come to me with papers
on Downs Syndrome, euthanasia,
grandfathers dying of liver cancer,
the stresses that break young people down

and turn them into suicides,
zombies, and alcoholics with no way out
but more booze and more pain

And I smooth the pages,
pat them into neat piles, and say,
“Here, here you need a comma; there
a hyphen, and don’t forget to cite your sources
and alphabetize correctly the works cited.”

But this isn’t what I want to say.
I want to tell them the lies I want to tell myself:
Don’t worry, things will get better, life
turns the corner, diligence and discipline

will save us from death.

What Reading Means To Me

There are books I love.
When I read them I feel tears
Come to my eyes. You know
What I mean. Sometimes

You’ll be sitting in a car
Reading a novel you’ve read before
Waiting for your wife or husband
To get done with the shopping

And you come to a part
About something so close
To you that you feel the writer —
Even if she’s making it up –

Must have in some past life
Lived that moment you lived
In some life, lived a pain
So hard you want to take

The writer’s hand and hold it
Against your own chest
And say nothing


He wasn’t even one of my students
Just one of my advisees, a shy fellow
And a slow talker. When he first came in
Two semesters ago, I thought he was slow
In other ways too, but his grades
Have been strong. He’s smart enough.

Today, he came to say he’s been called up
With the local National Guard unit,
Boys from Mattoon, Neoga, and Tuscola,
Boys from small farms and small towns,
And he was worried about his registration
For classes next semester. Would he be able
To cancel it and get his tuition money back?

I called the registration office. He wasn’t
Their first, and I told him what they told me.
You’ll need to sign some forms, and cancel
Your housing and then check in with the cashier.
And he thanked me for helping, but I couldn’t
Speak, so I just took his hand in mine, and held it.


Somewhere there is
           A short lyric by Emily
Dickinson that begins
          With that straight dark word

“Midnight” and ends
          With these two quiet lines:
“The train passes oh so slowly
           But the grief will never end.”

When I first read it I was
           Young, eighteen, a student.
Too young to know what
            Really feeds us, I laughed

And said to my friend Mike
            Rychlewski, “And they call
This oatmeal poetry? They
            Should feed it to the cows.”

To E. Dickinson in Heaven

So Emily,
tell me
what is it—
that so finally
kindly stops us—
Is it the heart
at last saying yes

to cholesterol
to blockage
in the ascending aorta?
The not wholly
chromed bumper slapping

our bones as quick
as children changing
their minds among swings
slides and jungle gyms?

Or is it the life
that passes
before our eyes
as the gas

hisses from the shower head
the knife tears,
the bear spreads
his arms,
the lover
enters the half circle
of our vision?

Let me know.


John Guzlowski



Emily Dickinson and Me


y experience with Emily Dickinson isn’t like other people’s in this series of essays by poets writing about how they discovered Dickinson. I didn’t read her when I was a child. In fact, there wasn’t much poetry in my house. My parents, my sister, and I were Displaced Persons, refugees. My parents were Polish survivors of Nazi slave labor camps who had somehow found themselves in Chicago after the war, and they were busy trying to make something of life in Chicago in the 50’s. We weren’t passing poetry around the dinner table.

The only things that came into the house that resembled poems were the songs my father would sing when he would have a few drinks. He would sing Polish soldier ballads. I remember one about a young girl waiting near a deep well for her lover to return from the wars. He never returns. There was another about how the red poppies on Monte Cassino (a Benedictine abbey on the spine of Italy that stood in the way of an Allied advance toward Rome) will always remind people about how the Poles bled and died there. You get the picture.

And my poetry reading in grade school and high school was shaped by the nuns of St. Francis in the former and the Christian Brothers in the latter. In grade school we read Catholic poets. The one who struck me most was Joyce Kilmer, the author of “Trees,” a good man who died in the trenches of France in World War I. My first poem used his rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets. In high school, we read lots of Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas. I had a teacher who began every class for a year reading out loud either Frost’s “Birches” or Thomas’s “Fern Hill.” It was boy’s poetry and young man’s poetry with a tinge of the brooding existential grayness of the early 60’s.

When I did finally start reading Emily Dickinson in college, the experience wasn’t one that touched me deeply or transformed the way I thought about poetry then. I can honestly say that I didn’t much care for her. Part of this, of course, may have come from the way she was presented back then, in the mid-60’s. One of my Profs referred to Dickinson as the “poet of minutiae”; another talked about her “domestic concerns.” Neither teacher was making me want to thumb through a volume of her poems. The feeling I was getting was that there were poets who said big things and poets who said small things. Looking back on all that now, I can see that a lot of what was going on was a dismissal of Dickinson on the basis of gender, but at that time I just didn’t see it.

The first time I actually read her was in an introduction to poetry class. We read one of her “minutiae” poems, the one about the snake, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.” The poem didn’t move me at all until I got to the final stanza when she started talking about how she never ran across this snake “Without a tighter breathing / And Zero at the Bone.” I thought, there’s a great image, what a way to talk about fear: Zero at the Bone. Yes, she’s got that down, but the rest of the poem for me was a “so what.” I thought, one super image but where’s her philosophy, her worldview, and how about the zeitgeist? The big things? In this class, I was also reading Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and Yeats’s “Second Coming” and “Sailing to Byzantium.” Xanadu! Brooklyn Ferry! Byzantium! These were poems doing everything a poem should be doing. Structuring the world. Explaining the unexplainable. Revealing truths that would remain truths for always, and for everyone. Tossing around exclamation points and rejecting dashes entirely!

What that introduction to poetry class taught me was that I preferred Yeats, Whitman, and Coleridge to Emily Dickinson and her simple matters. Yes, she was giving me a snake in the grass and “Zero at the Bone.” And she was giving me Eden, of course, but what about Leda and the Swan, the Cosmos, future generations staring me in the face, Khan’s Pleasure Dome? If I could have spoken to her, I would have said, “Give me the big picture, Emily.”

My next encounter with Emily Dickinson was in an American Literature survey, and it was about the same. She was sandwiched between Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. I can imagine the three of them sitting on a bench waiting to be called into the game. The Whitman of Manhattan on one side, a lusty, big, brawling figure waiting for somebody like Carl Sandburg to describe him as the Poet of the Big Shoulders. And on the other side, the magnificently rotund and socially imposing James the First after whom there are no others, a writer for whom every sentence is encyclopedically complex and raring to go.

And what about Emily? She sits in the middle, in white of course, quickly fading to a gray, dusty shadow, then little less than a shadow, then nothing, just a silence. She vanished for me. I’m sorry, but there it was. The professor who taught the class was working on a book about roaring radicals in American literature from 1850-1900, and he couldn’t see Emily Dickinson either. Amid the gas and bellowing of the second half of the 19th century, there were only about 15 minutes for Dickinson and her domestic concerns. We read her poem about the porcelain cup on the shelf (“I cannot live with you”) and scratched our heads. A poem about a cup? Students looked around at each other and looked again at the poem, and by then the 15 minutes were up and we were deep on the track of the Henry James Express! My poem “Midnight” in part comes out of these early experiences with Dickinson. At that time, I did feel that all that her poetry was good for was cattle fodder, something to feed the cows.

When was it that I started looking at Emily and liking what I saw? I guess it was in the middle of my teaching career, about fifteen years ago. I was teaching the second half of our freshman composition sequence, a course yoking literature and writing, and I wanted to do a unit on poems about death, so I was going through the anthology searching for appropriate poems. I found “Because I could not stop for Death,” “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died,” and “There’s a certain Slant of light.” When I read these poems, I stopped looking for others. These poems became the whole unit.

What moved me about them then, and still moves me, is her absolute clarity. Maybe clarity isn’t the right word, but I don’t know how else to say it. She’s talking about death, she’s talking about her shifting attitudes toward it, she’s talking about fear and expectation and despair and God and love, and she does it all with words so straightforward and so clear and so welcoming to me that I feel as if all poetic artifice is gone from the poems, and it’s just Dickinson talking to me in a darkening room about what it is she felt when she thought about death. I’m not saying that the poems aren’t complex and carefully crafted and deliberately shaped in such a way as to inspire deep and serious and critical readings. They’re clearly all that, and they express a worldview besides! All I’m saying is that she writes with such humane forthrightness that, for me, she becomes fully real and alive. When she says, “There’s a certain Slant of light,” I have to look at a window because it’s like she’s standing next to me and pointing. “Look there,” she’s saying, “do you see it, John? I have to tell you, it makes me feel so cold. So cold. Do you see it?”

When I read her and feel this, I know it’s exactly how I wish I could speak in my poems.

Isaac Singer and the Threat of America

Reprinted by permssion from Shofar, Spring, 2003


n his 1943 essay "Problems of Yiddish Prose in America," Isaac Singer discusses the difficulty—if not the impossibility—Yiddish writers face in writing about life here. One of the major problems has to do with the words they use. Yiddish words have "too much tradition"; they resonate with the flavor and timbre of the Old World. American words, conversely, "reek of foreignness, of cheap glitter, of impermanence." The result is that the "better" Yiddish writers here "avoid treating American life, and they are subjectively (aesthetically) right to do so." To make his point absolutely clear, Singer declares, "Through his language, the Yiddish writer is bound to the past. His boundaries are, spatially, the borders of Poland, Russia and Rumania, and, temporally, the date of his departure for America. Here he must, in a literary sense, dine on leftovers; only food prepared in the old world can nourish him in the new" (9).

That Singer is such a writer, at least in the popular imagination, seems unarguable. He is best known for fiction set in the past and in the distant, often mythic regions of Eastern Europe. Writing about his involvement with Poland and its past, Agata Tuszynska states in her book on Singer and Poland, "He lived longer in New York, than he lived in Poland, but…. His permanent address remained in Poland. He wore the past like an overcoat, whatever the season" (6). Likewise, Clive Sinclair in his book on Isaac and Israel Singer says, "America never dominated the imagination of the Singer Brothers, as it had the generation of immigrants that preceded them" (56).

As Janet Hadda remarks in her biography of him, however, this popular image of Isaac Singer as living in a "timeless Shtetl" is far from the truth. America is a significant element in a number of his novels, a point Leslie Fiedler speaks to in his 1981 essay "Isaac Bashevis Singer: or, the American-ness of the American-Jewish Writer." At the time Fiedler wrote his essay, however, only one of Singer's novels about America had been published in English: Enemies, A Love Story. Since then, it has been joined by The Penitent (1983) and the posthumously published Meshugah (1994) and Shadows on the Hudson (1998). It seems time, therefore, to examine Singer's American novels.

In his essay, Fiedler speculates about the "American-ness" of Singer: Is he Jewish-American, American Jewish, and how is he to be regarded: as an immigrant, a refugee, or an émigré? When he finally addresses the question, Fiedler's answer is not tentative: Singer's American-ness is "Minimal, I am tempted to say…almost nonexistent: an American-ness degree zero" (77). But he does not stop there. He finds that Singer's America is centered in Manhattan and boarded by Coney Island and the resorts of the Catskills. And the figures Singer populates this landscape with are his doubles: Yiddish writers lost in this "claustrophobic enclave" (77) with hardly any contact with "white American goyim" (79). His lost souls inhabit an America, Fiedler feels, that is a "Limbo: a twilight landscape in which they can haunt only each other, being imperceptible to the wide-awake inhabitants of daylight America" (80). Although Fiedler's interpretation is in some ways applicable to parts of Enemies with its lost and scarred survivors and to such stories as "The Séance" and "Wedding in Brownsville," it does not address the fullness of all that Singer has to say about America. In this essay, therefore, I will offer some possible points to consider in talking about Singer and America and its effect on Jews.

America appears in several of Singer's novels about Poland, most notably perhaps in The Manor, but in such novels, his interest is elsewhere; and the reader gets only a quick, tourist's glimpse of the new world, much like Clara Jacoby's view of America in that novel. Shadows on the Hudson is Singer's first full treatment of America. Although published in English in 1998, this novel predates Enemies, The Penitent, and Meshugah because it was serialized in Yiddish in The Forward between January 1957 and January 1958. In Shadows the American landscape Singer describes is—as Fiedler says of the landscape in Enemies—"narrow" (77), focusing primarily on New York City. But it is not the "Limbo" he says it is. Admittedly, Singer's Jewish characters do not affect "the wide-awake inhabitants of daylight America," but these Jewish characters are aware of and eafected by the Americans they come in contact with.

Shadows, an ensemble novel set in the late 1940's, focuses on a group of survivors (Hertz Grein, Boris Makaver, his daughter Anna are the major ones) attempting to reconstruct their lives in America. This work is somewhat surprising given that Singer's own experiences as a refugee in America—as he describes them in Lost in America—seem difficult but not impossible. The overall impression of America he offers in that memoir is fairly balanced, not unlike that of other writers from Poland, according to Adamczyk-Garbowska's study of "Polish Writers' Perceptions of America." Shadows, however, is unforgiving in its condemnation of American society, of America's effect on Jews, and of assimilation.

One of the central complaints about America in Shadows is that it is an idolatrous nation. Early, Singer describes Professor Shrage crossing a Manhattan street. As he looks at the drivers, his thoughts link America with Sodom and Gehenna: "These were not people hurrying to get home but the wicked inhabitants of Sodom … whirling themselves around in the Sling of Gehenna" (57-58). The idols that America worships are materialism, sex, and violence. Boris Makaver's daughter Anna—with her business acumen and love of comfort—represents the voice of materialism in Shadows. At one point, her husband says, "She's become an American. There's only one love here—love of the dollar" (253). In fact, she, unlike Shrage, Grein, and Dr. Margolin, feels at home in New York with its shop windows displaying the materialistic culture waiting for those with money. Glancing at them, she thinks, "America is a blessed country." For Anna, this blessedness has nothing to do with spiritual values; rather it derives from "the costly goods on display" in those windows and the people who work "devising new charms . . . to entice customers, in exactly the same way as flowers decked themselves out in every imaginable color to attract the bees that pollinated them." Her thoughts have turned from "goods on display" to sex, which for her seems a natural progression, for as she says, "Everything was sex" (343).

This belief is borne out in Shadows, as the reader hears its characters remark frequently on the obsessive sexuality of America, often linking this sexuality to violence and materialism. In one of several panoramic descriptions of New York, Grein compares the city to the capitals of the pagan world. Billboards display the idols of the culture: "raging murderers, naked whores." In restaurant windows men stand like high priests roasting meat while "cacophonous music" mixes with "screams of lust and the shrieks of the tortured." Over this entire scene presides a gigantic image of a woman painted on the side of a building. In its doorways her "hirelings" urge passersby to enter. The sentence which ends this scene confirms the sense of an idolatrous, bacchanalian orgy: "The air stank of smoke and slag, of booze and burning" (68).

A former teacher in a Talmud Torah who has abandoned his teaching, Grein often reflects on the hard impact this idolatrous culture has had on Jews. When asked why he no longer teaches, he says children reflect the values of the culture around them, and he has seen what these values are. The children attend their religious schools, he says, but they learn nothing "because the Torah isn't in tune with baseball and the filth they hear all night on the radio" (185). The "spiritual fathers" of these children are "stock Hollywood characters," and the literature these children read is all "trashy novels and the tabloid press" (90). What the children learn from these spiritual American fathers is to reject their Jewishness. This younger generation in Shadows—Anna, her cousin Herman, and Grein's children Jack and Anita—have forsaken their faith. Wondering what kind of Jews these children will be, Grein says, "When one removed the Jew's faith, precious little that was Jewish remained, and even less that bound all these modern Jews together. Even if they themselves did not assimilate, their children did. What kind of generation . . . would his Jack and Anita bring up? A Jew without God is a Gentile " (150).

And Gentiles in the novel, because they have created the idolatrous culture in which the Jews find themselves, are completely suspect. Speaking of the American culture of violence, evil, and "ugly deeds," Grein says, "Christianity is . . . complicit with this modern culture" (443). Often in the novel, Gentiles are seen as hypocrites who break the Ten Commandments, as violent anti-Semites who have "slaughtered and burned Jews" for 2,000 years, and as people whose indifference allowed the Holocaust to happen. When a Jewish artist tells Boris's wife Frieda he is converting to Christianity, she says, when "the Nazis exterminated six million Jews . . . the Christians were silent. The murderers carried out the slaughter and the priests looked on" (536).

A fear shared by many of the novel’s characters is that the "all-pervasive" Gentile influence is seducing the Jews not only into acceptance of the Gentile culture but also into active participation in the maintenance and control of this culture. Grein makes this point strongly as he reflects on the nature of popular culture. Wondering what has happened to Jews in America, he is amazed that for 3000 years they had been able to resist idolatry and "now suddenly they had become the foremost producers in Hollywood, the major publishers of newspapers.... Everywhere Jews have become the preachers of atheism, the arbiters of fashion, the writers of slander; they took the lead as political agitators and avidly fed the evil inclinations in all people. Now they had taken the role of teaching the Gentiles how to enjoy the pleasure of this world" (222-23). This movement to embrace Gentile culture is also finally a movement toward collaboration with Nazism. Talking to Dr. Margolin about how Jews have "become Men of Sodom" because of their "pursuit of Gentile culture," Grein links assimilation to Nazism. Following his statement about how his grandchildren will be Gentiles, he says, "We've been in league with our murderers. Directly and indirectly we're allies of the Nazis " (447).

Grein does not believe this movement toward assimilation and Nazism can be reversed. Near the novel's end, he reasons that he "has snapped the chain of generations," that he has cut himself off from the heritage that started with Abraham; and in doing so, he has cut his children off from this heritage. Asking himself how all of this came about so quickly, he answers,

Jewishness was not some kind of wild grass that grew on its own. It was a garden that one had to tend continually. When the gardener forgot them, or made himself forget, the plants withered…. There weren't any miracles: if one didn't teach one's children to be Jews, they became atheists, communists, assimilationists, converts. The biblical injunction "And you shall teach these words diligently to your children" was not simply a pious platitude. If this precept wasn't followed, moral chaos was the result. (418-19)

If the garden is not tended — to mix metaphors — the spark of Jewishness dies.

Grein's remarks seem somewhat ironic at first. Although he often says he has lost his faith and is no longer a Jew, and although he also seems dedicated to the materialistic and sexually-oriented culture he finds in America (as his obsession with Anna and her business deals suggests), his faith and Jewishness grow stronger as the novel progresses. This Jewishness at the novel's end, however, is the "extreme" Jewishness Singer writes of in his essay on Hasidic Jews, a Jewishness that demands total separation from American culture. Accordingly, Grein cuts himself off completely from the "underworld" culture of America with its Gentile-aping Jews; its "idolatry, adultery, and bloodshed"; its assimilationists who flirt with Nazism. As he says,

Whoever wants to serve God must wear God's insignia, and must separate himself from those who serve only themselves. The beard, the sidelocks, the girdle worn during prayers, the fringed ritual undergarment—all these are the uniform of the Jew, the outward signs that he belongs to God's world, not to the underworld. (545-46)

For Grein and other characters in the novel, America is the "underworld" with all that this word suggests in terms of pagan idolatry, hell, and the immorality of gangsterdom.

Thirteen years after the serialization of Shadows, Singer published Enemies, A Love Story, a novel dealing with Herman Broder, a Holocaust survivor living in New York, and his comic and tragic relations with his three wives. Although the novel is very critical of American culture and its effect on Jews, the focus of this discussion is somewhat different. The talk of America's idolatrous culture is replaced by a discussion of American freedom and its promise; and the tone of this discussion is also different, subtler, less diatribic.

In Enemies as in Shadows, Singer frequently describes various "panoramic" cityscapes as a way of providing a focus for a character's thoughts on America. Singer is especially intent on describing Herman's responses to Coney Island and the subway. In the first extended description of the amusement area, Singer suggests the possibilities of America. Apparently, there is food, pleasure, and freedom in abundance:

Herman turned right, and the hot wind struck him with the sweet smell of popcorn. Barkers urged people into amusement parks and side shows. There were carousels, shooting galleries, mediums who would conjure the spirits of the dead for fifty cents. At the subway entrance, a puffy-eyed Italian was . . . selling cotton candy and soft ice cream that melted as soon as it was put into a cone.

Herman's comments following this description suggest his views on Coney Island in particular and America in general: "The richness of color, the abundance, the freedom—cheap and shoddy as everything was" (21). Coney Island is like the melting ice cream: a fading promise.

The fading promise of Coney Island is more than that. It is the fading promise of America as well, a point Singer makes in his descriptions of the subways Herman takes. A hungry reader of the faces in the subways, he wants to understand the society he finds himself in; and what he comes to understand is that America is not the land of its visionary promise. In the faces he sees "dullness, greed, anxiety" and a primitiveness that suggests the failure of America's vision: "The low foreheads, the troubled gazes, the broad noses with large nostrils, the square chins, the full breasts and wide hips refuted all visions of Utopia." He believes evolution has failed work here and that at any moment this primitiveness may break into anti-Semitic violence: "The right bit of propaganda could rouse this group into a program-making rabble" (194).

A point Singer always comes back to in his descriptions of the subways is the one he makes at the end of that first Coney Island passage, that freedom here is as "cheap and shoddy as everything" else. Many of the passengers seem out of control. Herman cannot remember ever seeing "such wild faces" in Europe: "Here the young seemed dominated by lust for enjoyment rather than for mischief. The boys ran screeching, choking one another like rams" (21). Furthermore, feeling the masses of people pressing against him as they wait for a train, Herman feels there is no freedom: "An irresistible force shoved him into the car. Hips, breasts, elbows pressed against him. Here, at least, the illusion of free will had vanished. Here man was tossed about like a pebble or like a meteor in space" (84). The people he encounters appear to be victims of forces beyond their control.

This sort of pleasure-driven, wild, primitive, out-of-human-control landscape that the reader sees in the Coney Island and subway passages in Enemies is not uncommon in Singer's Eastern Europe fiction. We see very much the same thing in a number of his novels and short stories set there. A prime example is "The Gentleman from Cracow," a short story in which a town willfully allows itself to be controlled by its greed and lust. In that story, however, the town is pulled back from complete destruction through the efforts of the rabbi and the small community of good people who work with him.

The rabbi in Enemies, however, differs greatly from many of the rabbis of Singer's European fiction. Unlike the tradition-bound rabbis of novels like The Manor and Family Moskat, Rabbi Milton Lampert in Enemies is Singer's satire on a new kind of rabbi surfacing in America. His primary characteristic is that he is worldly rather than spiritual. He has hired Herman to ghost write his sermons because he lacks the patience to study sacred books. Instead, he follows the stock market, gambles, and spends his time satisfying his sensual desires and exercising his vanity. Just as he has made an accommodation to this new world, he tries to get Herman to enter fully into it. When he first appears, Lampert insists Herman get a phone so he can check-up on his work. Herman argues against this suggestion, "Anyone who's gone through all that I have is no longer a part of this world" (28). The Rabbi's response stresses the worldly:

You're as much a part of this world as the rest of us. You may have been a step away from death a thousand times, but so long as you're alive and eat and walk …then you're flesh and blood like everyone else. I know hundreds of concentration-camp survivors, some of them were practically on the ways to the ovens—they're right here in America, they drive cars, they do business. (28)

Lampert's remarks recall the moments in Shadows where characters speak of their "complicity" (443) with the materialistic culture of America, the accommodations they have made to it.

Herman, however, feels American Jews perhaps have made too many accommodations to this new world.[1] He comes to understand this when he and his lover Masha stay at a Jewish resort on Lake Placid. Observing the Jews around him, he asks the question asked repeatedly in Singer's American novels, "What does their Jewishness consist of?" And Herman's answer is one Singer's characters in these novels frequently give: "They all had the same wish: to assimilate as quickly as possible" (107). And how Herman views assimilation is suggested in the passage in which he thinks about the training in Judaism that his Gentile wife Yadwiga receives from her neighbors: they "were waiting … to teach her the Judaism that remained from their mothers and grandmothers and which the years in America had diluted and distorted" (137).

In Enemies Singer reveals Herman's complaints about America and its effects on the Jews but the passages that do this—as compared to similar passages in Shadows—are relatively limited in number. Singer gives us Herman's attitudes toward the people on the subways in only four passages. Similarly, the moments when he complains about Jews being transformed by America are rare. Unlike Grein, Herman does not often extend his thoughts beyond his own immediate concerns. And finally the tone of his remarks is subtler. The "panoramic" critiques Grein and others voice in Shadows tend toward the Jeremiadic with their references to Sodom, Gehenna, and idolatry. Herman's remarks, on the other hand, are relatively restrained.

This changes in the following novel, The Penitent, almost every page of which talks about America and the Jews in a language more reminiscent of the earlier Shadows. Serialized in Yiddish in 1974 and first published in English in 1983, The Penitent focuses on Joseph Shapiro, a survivor who came to the America after the war. Although financially successful, he flees this country for Israel to join a group of traditionalist Hasidic Jews. This first-person novel describes his reasons for leaving and the life he finds in Israel. His overriding reason appears to be that America "swarm[s] with hate and evil theories" (52). It is a fallen world of the kind Wolfgang Kayser describes in The Grotesque in Art and Literature, a world where all reliable sources of meaning and order—identity, natural law, social law, and historical order—have become distorted, suspended, or destroyed (184-85). One of the complaints Shapiro voices throughout the novel deals with lawlessness in the America. In Enemies, Herman comments on the chaotic, reckless, uncontrolled behavior of youths on the subways; but Shapiro points repeatedly at the lawlessness of the entire American society. For example, he notes that the doorman of his apartment building is not at his post because he is probably playing cards with a policeman in the basement. This incident leads Shapiro into a Jeremiad concerning the law. He says, "You couldn't say a word about this because, for all the fine talk about democracy, law, and freedom," only one principle is followed here: "the principle of might makes right" (30-31).

The America Shapiro sees is a society that has been entirely turned upside down.[2] He makes this point on a number of occasions by reciting what he finds in a typical newspaper. One of the fullest examples of this occurs the morning he decides to leave both his mistress and his wife. As he sits in a restaurant he reads about "wars, glorification of revolution, murders, rapes, politicians' cynical promises, lying editorials, acclaim for stupid books, dirty plays and films." The paper, Shapiro notes, applauded "every possible kind of idolatry" while it "spat at truth" (37). Even the obituary page reveals this topsy-turvyness by being made "to seem optimistic," emphasizing the accomplishments of the dead, the size of their estate, and the number of trophy wives they had. As in Shadows, all of this American devotion to materialism, sex, violence, criminality, and "progress" (118) is an expression of the essential idolatry of American. In The Penitent as in the earlier novel, America is presented as a new Sodom (31) in which people have rejected God and replaced him with "every possible kind of idolatry" (37). Arguing with Priscilla about the Ten Commandments' injunction not to serve false idols, Shapiro sets forth a blanket condemnation of American idolatry:

All the jails and hospitals are full of people who sacrificed themselves for a few dollars, for a woman, for a hazardous game, for a horse race, for revenge, for drugs, and for the devil knows what else. Every new invention demands countless new victims. The automobile has already killed millions of people…. Thousands of women die of abortions. Countless men and women have suffered and died and continue to suffer from venereal disease.

Denouncing this idolatry, Shapiro makes clear that he wants to serve the God of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, not the American idols of death, faithlessness, and cruel victimization that demand we "build our happiness on the misfortune of another" (157). Elsewhere he states, "The slightest compromise that you make with the pagan culture of our time is a gesture toward evil, a nod to the world of murder, idolatry, and adultery" (112).

Some of the novel's most diatribic passages deal with the consequences of this adjustment to worldliness, to American society. In one of these, Shapiro says the modern Jew's desire to ape the Gentile is "directly contrary to the essence of Jewishness, which is to be as distant from the Gentile as it's possible to get." He then goes on to discuss the Diaspora and explains how the isolation it forced on the Jews saved them as a people. If they had not experienced it, he says, they would have been "annihilated forever." In arguing for isolation, he then speaks about Jews, assimilation, and conversion: "It's just one step from assimilation to conversion, and sometimes no more than a generation or two from conversion to Nazism" (91). The seriousness with which he makes this remark is indicated earlier in a passage describing a dream he had. In it he is dressed as a Nazi, and he feels that it's his "way of life" (27) that puts him in this uniform. The message is quite clear: Jewish assimilation into American culture and society breeds Nazism.

The way in which Shapiro links assimilation and Nazism differs, however, from the way in which Grein links the two in Shadows. In that novel Grein says that assimilated Jews will become Gentiles, and these Gentiles are "Directly and indirectly" "allies of the Nazis" (447). As I understand this statement, Grein fears that Jews will become immoral if they abandon their Jewishness. Right after making his remark about becoming "allies of the Nazis," he lists some of the sins he feels Jews who have become Gentiles commit: "Our daughters wander the streets like harlots. Our wives sit in bars, talk obscenities, and read pornography. They paint their faces like strumpets and they deck themselves out like tarts and demand that their husbands kill themselves to keep their wives in luxury" (447). The sins Grein associates with these "allies of the Nazis" are sins of the flesh, not sins of the Holocaust. Grein, I suspect, is being hyperbolic. Shapiro, however, as his dream of himself in a Nazi uniform suggests, is not. As a Jew moving quickly toward complete immersion into the excess of an idolatrous culture, Shapiro feels he is moving toward Nazism and everything it suggests.

What he advocates instead is fundamentally what Grein advocates in the earlier Shadows: an "extreme Jewishness" (Penitent 43) of isolation. Seeing some Yeshiva students in an airport, Shapiro judges them approvingly: "They have isolated themselves from the worldliness more than any other Jews in our history. They were exactly what Moses demanded: a holy people, guarded by a thousand restrictions, a people which 'shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations'" (93-94). Shapiro feels too many American Jews have forgotten this injunction. They are willing to compromise with a corrupt culture, and he speaks at the novel's end about orthodox colleges and universities in America that teach a little about how to be a Jew and a lot about how to be a Gentile. The theory behind this—according to Shapiro—is that this will help the students "to adjust to both worldliness and God." Contrary to what Rabbi Lampert says in Enemies, Shapiro believes the truth is that "once you are adjusted to the world, you can no longer be adjusted to God" (161).

The nature of American society and its effect on Jews continues to be an important theme in Singer's posthumously published Meshugah, serialized in Yiddish between April 1981 and February 1983, and first published in English in 1994. Coming after The Penitent, Meshugah—although also focusing on Holocaust survivors—is a very different novel. Instead of The Penitent's Jeremiad against American culture, the reader encounters a more balanced view of America, almost as if Singer—troubled by the response of such readers as Harold Bloom to The Penitent's negative portrayal of America—had decided to write a less virulent novel. A typical descriptive passage showing this shift in Singer's presentation of America occurs in the first chapter of Meshugah. Its narrator-protagonist Aaron Greidinger writes, "Outside it was May, and it was already too hot. But I imagined that together with the odor of gasoline and heated asphalt, I could smell the fragrance of spring wafting in from the East River " (10). This scene is a far cry from the bacchanalian streetscapes described by Grein in Shadows or Masha's statement in Enemies that "Even in the camps the air wasn't as polluted as it is here" (103).

Admittedly, Singer still allows his narrator to voice complaints. The most frequent is that America is mad, as the title Meshugah suggests. At one point Aaron's friend Max sighs and says, "Yes, this is New York—eternal bedlam" (28). But the statement does not carry the same imagistic force as Singer's earlier descriptions of the frenetic immorality and mindlessness of the Gentile culture of Shadows with its images of the idolatrous world. In fact, he turns the heat of his complaints down considerably by suggesting not only America but the whole world is mad. Aaron's lover Miriam, also a survivor, says to him, "We are a peculiar family. My father is a maniac. My mother is muddleheaded, and my brother, Manes, was not quite right in his head . . . It is our luck that we are each peculiar in some way. I love Max because he is perfectly insane. And I love you because you write about madmen." When she asks him if he knows the madmen he writes about, Aaron replies, "For me the whole world is an insane asylum" (39). Clearly happy with this answer, she kisses him. Being mad—maybe it's not such a bad thing.

Also uncharacteristically for Singer's novels about America, various characters in Meshugah say positive things about this country. Talking about Miriam, Aaron says, "She had faced countless perils until she found a haven in this blessed land where a Jewish girl could drive a car, rent an apartment, study at a university, even write a dissertation on an unknown Yiddish writer" (49). Max also makes a number of positive comments. As a businessman, he has made money in this country and encourages Aaron and Miriam to do the same. But it's not simply the opportunities available here that elicit favorable remarks from the characters. Later, while bouncing a toddler on his knees, Max says he should be thankful for being born in "Uncle Sam's land" and not in Russia with its oppressive regimes (144). Interestingly, most of the positive comments refer to America's freedoms, an element that Enemies in particular was critical of.

Singer's less strident, more balanced view of America is also seen in his portrayal of the effect of America on Jewishness. The novel still raises the questions "What is a Jew?" (203) and "What does Jewishness consist of?" (38); but whatever answers the novel offers, it does not attack America for transforming Jewishness as Shadows, Enemies, and The Penitent do. In those novels, America is seen as tempting and seducing Jews with its "all-pervasive" influence (Shadows 373), distorting and diluting Jewishness (Enemies 138), and polluting and corrupting Jews who make the "slightest compromise" with America (Penitent 112). Admittedly, there is assimilation in Meshugah. At one point, Miriam says of her Jewish girlfriends: "Even those who got married or joined synagogues were thoroughly assimilated" (96). Also, as in The Penitent, Singer does suggest connections between assimilation and Nazism. In a very early passage in Meshugah, Aaron walks down New York's Second Avenue and thinks how the Yiddish presence on the street has diminished over the years: "What the Nazis had done to Jewishness in Warsaw assimilation was accomplishing piecemeal in New York—but neither religious nor worldly Jewishness was ready to become extinct" (10). This statement is not as extreme as Shapiro's belief that assimilation ends in Nazism (Penitent 91). Shapiro feels Jews may become Nazis; Aaron feels assimilation is decreasing Jewishness somewhat.

Singer's attempt to view the connection between assimilation and Nazism from a less strident perspective is also evident in the story of Aaron's lover Miriam. She is the daughter of Polish Jews who had assimilated. In Warsaw her father had lived as a freethinking Bohemian; her mother a Communist supporter. When the Holocaust came, Miriam became the mistress of a German in Stutthof and acted as a kapo for the Nazis. Although she seems proof of Shapiro's contention concerning the link between assimilation and Nazism, this is not the way Singer presents her. When confronted with the knowledge that she prostituted herself to the Nazis and was "worse than a Nazi," Aaron accepts her:

Whatever she was before—it's all the same to me. Who am I that I should judge victims of Hitler? I had also heard that among the kapos there had been decent people who helped the inmates in the camps. What they all wanted was to save their lives. I was filled with great pity for this young woman who, at twenty-seven, had experienced so much of life's bitterness as a Jew. (208-09)

Unlike Hertz Grein, Herman Broder, or Joseph Shapiro, Aaron is much more understanding and accepting even in this extreme situation; and as a result, assimilation does not appear as dire an occurrence as it does in Shadows, Enemies, or The Penitent.

I would like to make one last point about the depiction of assimilation in Meshugah. In the passage quoted above, Aaron refers to Miriam — despite her parents’ assimilation and her own past — “as a Jew.” Shapiro in Penitent, however, implies that one step away from Jewishness is the same as a complete rejection of it. His inner voice tells him: “All other ways except extreme Jewishness must lead to the lies and lewdness you despise. If you don’t believe in the Shulhan Arukh, then you must believe in evil and in all kinds of empty and bankrupt theories that lead to the abyss” (43-44). Singer, in Meshugah, however, offers a very different perspective on the question of “Who is a Jewish?” There is a scene in the novel where Miriam makes a vow to be faithful to her lovers Aaron and Max. As if it were a religious ceremony, she covers her hair with a kerchief, lights candles, and reads a passage of the bible in a chant. Witnessing this vow, Aaron—whose Jewishness is far from what his rabbi father's was—senses “something awesome and ancient in Miriam’s voice and manner” (159) that connects her and him to the essence of Jewishness and “a sacred place” (160). There is still a part of him that is Jewish, what elsewhere in the novel Aaron refers to as “the Jew in Me” (209).

Towards the end of Meshugah, Aaron meets a rabbi traveling to the States to raise money for a Yeshiva in Israel who speaks about “something awesome” that defies assimilation and conversion. Responding to Aaron’s statement that he’s unmarried, the rav says,

I know, the enlightened argue as follows: Why bring up new generations when Jews are always in trouble? They all say this to me. All year long my synagogue is empty. But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur they come. Not all of them; but many. What is the point of it? If there is neither judgment nor judge, how do the high holidays differ from other days of the year? I ask them why they don’t marry or why they have so few children, and they all have the same answer: “For what? So that there’ll be someone to kill?” The Evil Inclination has an answer for everything. On the other hand, a spark of Jewishness exists in every Jew, and a spark can easily become a flame. (213-14)

The rabbi’s reference to “a spark,” of course, calls to mind the Cabala and the belief that in every element of the Universe there is some spark of God’s light[3] ; and this reference to the spark also serves as counter balance to the positions Grein, Herman, and Shapiro take on the state of Jews in America. No matter what happens to them or how much they depart from Jewishness or how much they question or doubt their faith, they will still, the rabbi seems to suggest, be Jews.

So where does Singer stand on the issue of America and its effect on Jewishness? If we look at Meshugah as the last novel in a series of novels dealing with these issues, we can argue that there is a progression from the diatribic vehemence of Shadows, The Penitent, and — to a somewhat lesser degree — Enemies to a more balanced view. In Meshugah the author seems to have become open to more liberal positions on America and Jewishness.

However, as with any question involving Singer's intent and message, the answer is less clear than it looks at first. Several issues, in fact, complicate any attempt to finally define his position on the impact of American society on Jewishness. First, there is the possibility that tirades such as Shapiro's and Grein's are not an expression of Singer's position, although their prominence in the novels in which they appear might suggest this. One of the critical debates about The Penitent revolves around this question. In two separate essays, Joseph Sherman and Minna Herman Maltz take issue with Harold Bloom who tends to equate Singer's views and Shapiro's. Sherman and Maltz argue that Singer distanced himself from Shapiro's positions repeatedly in the novel and its prologue, and that finally Singer's intent is not to privilege one point of view but rather to open a discussion and give voice to a diverse set of positions. What they say about The Penitent, of course, can also be said about the other three novels.

A second complication is the order in which these novels were published. If we approach the novels from the perspective of when they were originally written—Shadows, Enemies, The Penitent, and then Meshugah—there is a definite amelioration of Singer's views. However, given the order of publication in English with Shadows following Meshugah, amelioration is out of the question; and, in fact, the Jeremiad in The Penitent that Harold Bloom attacked in his review of that novel seems more justified while Sherman's and Maltz's reasoned differentiation of Singer's position from Shapiro's seems less convincing.

A third complication involves the dates of composition and initial publication of The Penitent and Meshugah. The books appear to take radically different positions on almost every issue ranging from the role of American newspapers to the smell of the streets. The differences suggest Singer had himself radically changed from the time he worked on one to the time he worked on the other. In fact, however, the periods during which he worked on the two novels appear to overlap. Penitent was published in Yiddish in 1973 and translated by Singer in the early 1980's, finally being published in English in 1983. Meshugah was serialized in Yiddish from April 1981 to February 1983. Apparently, while Singer was having Shapiro lambaste America and assimilating Jews in one novel, he had Aaron Greidinger saying it's not such a bad place and besides Jews will survive the bad that's here.

A final complication is that Singer's "final" words about America and Jewishness, as they appear in Shadows, may not have been the final words he would have wanted to say. Although written in the late 1950's, it was not published in book form until 1998, seven years after Singer's death. In his essay on Shadows, Richard Bernstein suggests the reason why Singer did not translate and publish it during his life was that it was too dark, too pessimistic. If this was the case, then perhaps he did want us to see the English translation of Meshugah which he apparently sanctioned (230) as his last thoughts on American Jewishness. But this too may not be completely the case: Bernstein also reports that Singer's publisher Roger Straus thinks that a more likely reason for not translating and publishing it earlier was that Singer was absentminded or that the project was too daunting because of the size of the book.

Despite these complications, there are still things that one can say about the issues discussed here. Clearly, Singer has a complex, lengthy relationship with America; and this relationship has resulted in a complex vision of America, a vision that—although on occasion seeming less critical of America's culture — frequently is extremely critical. To qualify Fiedler's remarks, Singer's characters may be invisible to America, but America is not invisible to them, and what they often see threatens their souls. In all the American novels — just as in all of his Eastern European novels — Singer fears what will happen if Jewishness disappears under the pressure a materialistic culture seems to offer; he fears what Aaron in Meshugah calls "a spiritual holocaust" (144). The sort of extreme Jewishness Shapiro and Grein turn to is unquestionably appealing to Singer. His works and his life attest to that. But they also attest to his inability to embrace extreme Jewishness. Aaron Greidinger, the character in these American novels who most resembles Singer, contains the "spark" of Jewishness but he cannot follow the rabbi who suggests this to him. Aaron and the other characters in these novels must find their own ways of carrying their sparks within a society that too often seems an "eternal Bedlam."


1. Joseph Sherman has written a thorough and informative discussion of the impulse toward accommodation in this novel in his essay "Guilt as Subtext: I.B. Singer's Memoiristic Fiction." RETURN

2. Singer frequently uses the image of upside-down-ness of topsy-turveyness in his fiction to suggest a world gone totally awry. A more light-hearted use of this image appears in his children's novel, The Topsy Turvey Emperor of China.RETURN

3. Singer's use of ideas and images associated with the Cabala is convincingly documented in Grace Farrell Lee's From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer.RETURN

Works Cited

Adamczyk-Garbowska, Monika. "Myth and Prejudice: Polish Writers' Perceptions of America." Akcent:

Bernstein, Richard. "Just Like a Singer Tale: Question for a Yiddish Sprite." New York Times on the Web, January 14, 1998.

Bloom, Harold. "Isaac Bashevis Singer's Jeremiad." New York Times, September 25, 1983, p. 26, col. 2.

Fiedler, Leslie. "Isaac Bashevis Singer: Or The American-ness of The American-Jewish Writer." Fiedler on the Roof: Essays on Literature and Jewish Identity. Boston: David R. Godine, 1991

Hadda, Janet. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kayser, Wolfgang. The Grotesque in Art and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

Lee, Grace Farrell. From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

Maltz, Minna Herman. "Point of View in Isaac Bashevis Singer's 'The Penitent.'" English Studies in Africa 29, 2 (1986) 131-39.

Sherman, Joseph. "Author Versus Narrator in The Penitent: Reconsidering Isaac Bashevis Singer's Tirade." Journal of Narrative Technique 18, 3 (Fall 1988), 243-57.

—-. "Guilt as Subtext: I. B. Singer's Memoiristic Fiction." Studies in American Jewish Literature 13 (1994) 106-23.

Sinclair, Clive. The Brothers Singer. London: Allison and Busby, 1983.

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Enemies, A love Story. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1972.

—-. "The Extreme Jews." Harper's, April 1967, 55-62.

—-. Lost in America. In Love and Exile: A Memoir. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984.

—-. Meshugah. Trans. Isaac Singer and Nili Watchel. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994.

—-. The Penitent. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983.

—-. "Problems of Yiddish Prose in America." Trans. Robert H. Wolf. Prooftexts 9, 1 (January 1989), 5-12.

—-. Shadows on the Hudson. Trans. Joseph Sherman. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998.

Tuszynska. Agata. Lost Landscapes: In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland. Trans. Madeline G. Levine. New York: William Morrow, 1998.

A Brief Webliography
Online Works by John Guzlowski

I.  Poems about my parents.

Probably the best on line introduction to the poems is at The Scream Online :


The site includes 3-4 paragraphs of introduction to my parents, their experiences and my writing. This is followed by 8 poems. The site also includes a reproduction of the front and back covers of my Language of Mules book. Included poems are "Cattle Train to Magdeburg," "My Father’s Teeth," "His Mother Asks Him to Forget the War,"
"How Early Fall Came this Year," "Caesarian," "What the War Taught My Mother," "A Story My Father Told," and "Donna."

My poem My Mother Talks about the Slave Labor Camps is included in an informational site on the DP camps and the concentration camps at


My poem What the War Taught Her is at


A selection in Agora including "Hunger in the Labor Camps" — poems about my father’s time in the camps — is at


A poem about my mother responding to one of the poems I wrote about her (My Mother Reads Cattle Train to Magdeburg) is at


The poem A Good Death is at the Forgotten Holocaust site:


I Dream of My Father as He Was When He First Came Here Looking for Work is at the Mississippi Review site:


II.  Other poems.

Lovers (for Bill Matthews)


At Forty She Begins to Write Poems and Climbing Down From the Wind


War Poets and What the War Taught Her at the Voices in Wartimesite:


1968: Part 1: The Siege of Khe Sanh and Part 2: Dreaming ; and
Coming of Age? In The Scream Online:


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