By Leonard Unger
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Constant bloodletting moved the sensual Risha (in "Blood") to deepening carnality and degeneracy; Yoineh Meir experiences revulsion, guilt, and depression. "Even in the worm that crawls in the earth," he cries, "there glows a divine spark. " Yet signs of slaughter are everywhere; not only his phylacteries and holy books are of animal skin, but the Torah itself. Insanity or death alone promises escape. Shouting God Himself is "a slaughterer . . 20 / AMERICAN WRITERS and the whole world . . a slaughterhouse," Yoineh Meir plunges into madness and the river.
But without a glimpse into the protagonists' inner thoughts the reader can only feel cheated. Other characters simply are dropped. Thus much intended irony and subtlety culminate in confusion rather than coherence. Still no other modern writer mirrors so clearly man's urge toward the sacred and yielding to the profane. Singer has read not only Freud but such Freudian precursors as Spinoza and Schopenhauer, as well as Dostoevski, who formulated for literature man's "satanic" aspects. " Whether good or evil wins out depends in his fiction on individual character as much as on events beyond human control.
Lucid, exact, penetrating, it conveys a human voice— "the swift, living voice," as Ted Hughes puts it, "of the oral style"; thus it proves a prime medium for expressing the Jewish communal code with its memories, hopes, and defeats. Above all, Singer's prose gives lie to the legend that Yiddish does not translate into English. He is pleased to be read in English, to have a "very real" audience rather than the "nearimaginary" Yiddish one. Still, forty percent of each book's value, Singer feels, is lost in translation, despite his personal involvement.