It is fairly well known that before he emigrated to the United States in 1935, I B Singer was a rabbinical student, specialising in the study of Talmudic law. Judaism may have lost a good rabbi when Singer opted for a career as a writer (and this novel like the rest of his fiction is translated from the Yiddish), but inevitably there is a holy man - a rabbi or a holy fool - in his cast of characters. The Jew, Ben Dosa, in The King of the Fields, is the sole representative of his faith- he is not only the only Jew in the book, but apparently the only one on earth, as far as the rest of the characters arc concerned. We arc in about the Third Century AD, in darkest Europe, among savage forest tribes, one of which does a bit of farming. 'They called themselves Poles, because in their language pola meant field.'
This is an astonishingly vigorous and imaginative book for a man who is 85 this year. It is energetic, allusive and magical. It is also somewhat chaotic, which is another way of saying that I am not sure what it all adds up to. But while it is happening