The Paris Review

Isaac Bashevis Singer from Beyond the Grave


The Isaac Bashevis Singer of public consumption—the elderly, distinguished, Yiddish, Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer—projected an air of oblique, quizzical humility, as if he were bemused by the grandiose esteem in which he was held. He endearingly told in , the year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize, that “a story is still a story where the reader listens and wants to know what happens,” and that he knew so few American writers “because here in America I find there is no place to meet them.” The younger brother of a celebrated Yiddish author, Israel Joshua Singer, he relished slotting himself beneath Israel’s long-dead shadow. According to that interview, he listed himself publicly in the Manhattan phone directory, and “would invite anyone who called for lunch, or at least coffee.” He enjoyed “feeding pigeons from a brown paper bag.” The interviewer, Harold Flender, writes: “The first impression Singer gives is that he is a fragile, weak man who would find it an effort to walk a block.” That public persona—inviting, avuncular, warm, and unpretentious—was played with such confidence that the private Singer was able to stand just beside it, unhidden but unnoticed. Despite his appearance of overwhelming physical frailty, Flender tells us, Singer actually “walks fifty to sixty

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