Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: "Shadows on the Hudson" by Isaac Bashevis Singer

I have been fascinated by Judaism most of my adult life, in part because of studying the Old Testament and in part because I read Singer's novel Sosha  when I was in my twenties. I was mesmerized. I picked  up Shadows on the Hudson in a used book store a couple of months ago, but put it aside because I was busy with other things.  When I finally did get around to reading it, I found it slow going. I couldn't read more than a couple of chapters at a time.

It made me feel like I used to feel watching Seinfeld: the story world is alien and strange to me. The people, while interesting and -- some of them -- sympathetic, are so different from me that I have trouble relating to them.

The main thing I brought away from the story was the insight that it is that the Jews cannot be painted with a broad brush without violating the amazing variety of their stories. The person's national origin and personality type are as important as their religion in determining how they navigate their world and how they cope with something as overwhelming a surviving the Holocaust.

Almost everything I have ever read about Jews in the post-Holocaust world has made me revere them. This book shows the totally human side of people who have been to hell and come back to earth, and who somehow managed to retain their humanity - in all its magnificent variety.

It was difficult reading, but ultimately worth it. It made me sad that people who had suffered so much could live so decently, while we in America today have given in to pettiness, greed and narrow-mindedness.

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