Love and Exile by Isaac Bashevis Singer - review by Craig Raine

Craig Raine

Lost Threads and Common Pursuits

Love and Exile


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In his novel, Enemies, Isaac Bashevis Singer has the character Masha interrupt one of her typically headlong speeches with the words, 'Why am I bringing this up? Oh, yes!' And she is away again. That fractional hesitation is so true, one can almost see her lost thread, the wispy end of it moistened between her lips, before she continues to stitch up her case against a God who can countenance suffering – a theme which is central to this gathering of three previously published autobiographical reminiscences, with a new preface, under the general title Love and Exile. The pause is a wonderful touch – as life-like as the moment in Chekhov's 'My Life', when the provincial hero first kisses Masha and scratches his cheek on her hat pin; as accurately set down as the faintly ridiculous turmoil of Katya in Chekhov's 'A Dreary Story', to the misery of which is added the ironical observation that 'her hat falls off and hangs bobbing on its elastic'. In each case, as Singer states in Love and Exile, the power of the writing is located not in language but in life itself:

I had made up my mind a long time ago that the creative powers of literature lie not in the forced originality produced by variations of style and word machinations but in the countless situations life keeps creating, especially in the queer complications between m an and woman. For a writer, they are potential treasures that could never be exhausted, while all innovations in language soon become clichés.

Every writer will recognise the force and justice of this fiat. Literature is the great enemy of literature. This is a sub-theme of Love and Exile which has been largely ignored.

From his earliest days, Singer could see the shortcomings of Yiddish literature. The young apprentice could see that the spirit-level had

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