Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One of the World's Great Storytellers Learned Early

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One of the World's Great Storytellers Learned Early

Article excerpt

More Stories from My Father's Court

By Isaac Bashevis Singer Translated from Yiddish by Curt Leviant Farrar, Straus & Giroux 216 pp., $22

In his novels, short stories, memoirs, and children's tales, the late Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer explored many aspects of Jewish life: folklore, mysticism, village life, city life, the experience of emigration, the lure of sexual passion, and the conflict between religious tradition and modern skepticism. It is surely possible that Singer's lifelong love of storytelling began when he was a young boy listening to the people who came to his father's rabbinical court to seek help, advice, and judgments on a great variety of personal, familial, and religious issues.

On Krochmalna Street in Warsaw, in the Singer family's modest apartment, Singer's father, a rabbi, held court. Jews from the neighborhood - and sometimes from farther away - came to consult him on matters of religious observance, marriage, and divorce. Singer's mother, like many a rabbi's wife, also took an active role, listening to people's problems and offering her advice.

Young Isaac, not surprisingly, was the proverbial little pitcher with big ears. Even when his parents made him leave the room because a problem under discussion was what we'd now call R-rated, the future author of "The Family Moskat" and "Satan in Goray," and "Enemies: A Love Story" did his best to overhear as much as he could.

Singer recounted his experience as a rabbi's son in his memoir "In My Father's Court," published in 1966. But there was more material. The 27 "More Stories from My Father's Court" now being published posthumously in English translation and in book form, originally appeared in Yiddish in a column Singer wrote for The Jewish Daily Forward in the years 1955-1960. More sketches than stories, they may not represent Singer's most impressive work, but in some respects, they show us the roots of his lifelong passion for storytelling.

People with problems, as he soon discovered, are stories waiting to be told. Sometimes, what young Singer heard shocked not only him but his parents as well, especially his father, an unworldly, pious man who tended to think the best of people. …

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