Meshugah /

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Main Author: Singer, Isaac Bashevis, 1904-
Format: Book
Published:New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Free love, paranormal phenomena, God, the Holocaust and avant-garde art are among the preoccupations of refugees from Hitler's Europe who cluster in Manhattan in 1953. Singer's extraordinary posthumous novel concerns a romantic triangle (or perhaps more aptly, pentagram) one apex of which is Miriam Zalkin, a 27-year-old Polish emigre and death-camp survivor. Miriam worships 67-year-old Max Aberdam, a brash, womanizing (though married) stock-market speculator; she wants to divorce her unbalanced, gun-toting poet husband; and she has an affair with Aaron Greidinger, 47, Yiddish newspaper columnist and novelist (a character very much like Singer himself). As if this weren't complicated enough, Tzlova, Max's housemaid and ex-mistress, has an affair with Aaron; and Max's wife, a medium, receives messages from Karl Marx and Jesus. When Aaron stumbles on secrets from Miriam's past--she was a teen prostitute with Nazi clients and a camp kapo who beat Jewish prisoners--he faces a moral dilemma that is only resolved after Max, Miriam and Aaron meet in Israel. The novel's title (Yiddish for crazy) evokes Singer's pessimistic vision of the world as an insane asylum, but also conveys something of the manic energy he brings to a deceptively comic tale that distills his marvelous storytelling gifts. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The late Nobelist's third posthumously published novel (after Scum and The Certificate) was serialized (1981-83) in Yiddish in the Forward newspaper and was titled Lost Souls. But ``meshuga'' (crazy) is the world where lies were bits of truth, where ``no sooner did one free oneself of a neurosis, then another rushed in to take its place,'' and where God--the novelist?--maybe has a meaning in the works. Singer's following will feel at home: those uptown Broadway cafeterias of the 50's, a sub-shtetl of recent immigrants, nursing coffee and gossip, Manhattan in freezing cold or blazing heat, milling pigeons, the eerie vacancy of skyscrapers. And throughout there is the crazy choreography of uprooted random survivors of the Holocaust, drifting, as here, into odd combinations; and always wry cosmic questions nag: ``What does God want? There has to be something He wants.'' Narrator Aaron Greidinger, writer and radio ``advisor'' to a Yiddish-speaking following, is stunned to see in large person Max, once patron of the arts in Warsaw, in roaring top form as ``the well-known glutton, guzzler, womanizer.'' Max sweeps Aaron off to meet his 27-year-old lover, Miriam, another camp survivor. The trio achieves a psychic/sexual entity: Max, the elderly ``husband, father, lover,'' considers lovers Aaron and Miriam his children. Aaron, bemused, somewhat horrified, sees ``entanglements without exit'': Stanley, Miriam's flabby husband, barges in, points a gun (there is a question about God); lovers old and new send signals; Miriam's wartime sex is more serious--and there's worse to come. At the last, after a trip to Israel, and a terrible discovery, Aaron weighs love and obligation in the shadow of a world's ``slaughterhouse.'' Solid representative Singer with speculations light and dark, comic and searing. Manna for his following, who know that wherever Singer touched pen to paper there sprang up a village--of ghosts, of survivors, of all of us.

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