In this vivid biography, Florence Noiville offers a glimpse into the world of this much-loved but persistently elusive writer: Isaac Bashevis Singer. Singer (1904–91) is generally recognized as the most popular Yiddish writer of the twentieth century. His widely translated body of work, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, is beloved around the world. But although Singer was a very public and outgoing figure, much about his personal life remains unknown.
Singer was greatly influenced by his early years in Poland, with his rabbi father and rationalist, secular mother. His interest in themes of faith and dilemma stem directly from this set of conflicts; he bounced back and forth between revering and fighting orthodoxy. This was not the only paradox in his life, however: this man, who wrote many successful children’s books, had abandoned his first wife and only son in Poland as the Nazis began to sweep across Europe. His novels and stories are recognized for their mystical, folkloric tone and his public image was that of a grandfather or uncle; but he was wracked with self-doubt, a womanizer, and, as Noiville writes, a “modern virtuoso of anguish, inhibition, and fiasco.”
Noiville speaks to these and other paradoxes surrounding her subject, drawing on letters, personal stories, Singer’s own autobiographies, and interviews with friends, family, and publishing contemporaries. She travels as he did, from Poland to New York to Florida, tracing his journey from penniless immigrant to Nobel laureate. By pursuing Singer’s public and private past, she rebuilds his story and the story of the world he wrote from: a Yiddish world, a Poland removed from history by Nazi Germany.