Magazine article Midstream

Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Bibliography

Magazine article Midstream

Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Bibliography

Article excerpt

I started working on my bibliography of Isaac Bashevis Singer some 15 years ago. My work was prompted by several of our readers in the Jewish Division of The New York Public Library who, over a period of a few months, asked whether we could find the original Yiddish version of a given story or novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer. We assumed that the works of a Nobel Prize-winning author would surely be available in book form in the language in which he wrote. Singer was internationally famous by 1991, his works having been translated into about 12 languages; in addition to the expected Western European translations, there was The Estate in Finnish, In My Father's Court in Ukrainian, Scum in Polish, and Zortzi kontakizun, a collection of eight Singer stories translated into Basque.

It turned out, though, that relatively little of his Yiddish work was available in book form. Indeed, the translations into modern languages were made from the English, not from the original Yiddish. Even the Hebrew translations by Singer's own son, Israeli journalist and novelist Israel Zamir, were made from the English. Singer was very much involved in the translation of his works and sometimes made significant changes from the Yiddish original; The Family Moskat, for example, actually has a new, more upbeat final chapter in the English version. Singer was often writing on a deadline, so his eagerness to edit his work is understandable: he called the English translations of his work the "second original." But in order to study Singer's methods and intentions, scholars need access to his work as he originally wrote it.

Only nine separate Singer titles have been published in Yiddish in book form: three collections of short stories; Mayn tatn's beys-din shtub (partially translated as In My Father's Court); and the Yiddish versions of the novels Satan in Goray, The Family Moskat, The Slave, The Magician of Lublin, and The Penitent. I think that Singer must have been aware that, in the late twentieth century, the market for Yiddish books was limited. In one of my favorite Singer novels, Enemies, a love story, a shopkeeper says, "New York is full of thieves, but I don't have to worry about the store ... my only fear is that some Yiddish author might break in at night and put in some more books."

The overwhelming majority of Singer's enormous output was published not in book form but serially in the Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward), as well as in a few other Yiddish periodicals. Like most Jewish newspapers, the Yiddish Forward is not indexed; this means that most of Singer's work was essentially unavailable in its original language. I was intrigued by this; what other major modern author publishes his novels in a newspaper? It was as if Singer were a nineteenth-century writer in late twentieth-century America.

There is a bibliography that covers Singer's work up to 1949, written by David Neal Miller, a Yiddishist and professor at Ohio State University. I learned from an article in the journal Yiddish that Professor Miller had compiled a Singer bibliography covering the years 1950-1959 (although this has not yet been published). So I took 1960 as my starting point and began the wearisome but necessary task of looking through over 30 years of microfilm of the Forverts--a daily newspaper until 1983, when it became a weekly, which it remains today. I also surveyed other Yiddish periodicals that Singer contributed to during this period--Tsukunft [The Future] and Goldene Keyt [Golden Chain].

But I was not just searching for articles by "Yitshak Bashevis Zinger"; I learned that during the last third of his life, Singer wrote under three names: "D. Segal," "Yitshak Varshavski," and "Yitshak Bashevis" (or, after he won the Nobel, "Yitshak Bashevis Zinger"). "Yitshak Bashevis" was used almost exclusively for fiction. Singer used the pseudonym "D. Segal" for pieces on current events and celebrities (the assassination of JFK, the death of Marilyn Monroe, a hurricane in Florida, recent scientific discoveries, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, or the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin); feuilletons (his vegetarianism, the rising crime rate in America); theater and movie reviews (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf The Night of the Iguana, Rhinoceros, as well as the immortal Midgie Purvis [a Tallulah Bankhead vehicle] and A Worm in Horseradish); and some children's stories, such as the Chelm tales. …

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