Bernard Malamud Revisited: Portrait of the Post-Holocaust Jewish Hero in the Fixer

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Malamud began writing seriously a little late in the early s by publishing stories in noncommercial magazines for which he did not get paid until 1949 (Giroux ix. He published his first novel The Natural (1952) at age thirty-eight. This does not mean he was not prolific, for Malamud published eight novels, considering his unfinished The People
(1989), and fifty-five short stories during his lifetime. However, this suspended start and slow progress could not be without reason. The base of this hesitation, among other reasons, could be contemplating and reconsidering his mission as a writer. Relevant to this, Abramson states:
Malamud was greatly affected by World War II. He was not particularly concerned about his own Jewishness until the events of the Holocaust, and said, The rise of totalitarianism, the Second World War, and the situation of the Jews in Europe helped me to come to what I wanted to say as a writer He became convinced that he wanted to be a writer and began a study of Jewish history and culture. (The alleged Holocaust news highly intensified Malamud’s self-consciousness as a Jew and set the tone for his profession. Alan Berger asserts, Bernard Malamud was moved to write by the advent of World War II and the Holocaust
(119). However, he could not have been unconcerned about his own Jewishness before it. The hard life of his parents was always in front of his eyes. Max Malamud, his father, was a
Ukrainian-born Jew who immigrated to America in the first decade of the twentieth century and ran a small grocery for almost all his life. Bertha Fidelman, his mother, also came to America from Ukraine. She suffered from schizophrenia and died in a mental hospital in 1929 at age forty-one. His brother, Eugene, similarly endured schizophrenia and spent much of his adult life in a hospital. The immigrant life of Max and Bertha was no doubt a major source for the creation of characters and settings in Malamud’s works. He admits that thinking about my father’s immigrant life – how he earned his meager living and what he paid for it, and about my mothers, diminished by fear and suffering – as perhaps matter for my fiction. I had them in mind as I invented the characters who became their fictional counterparts. (Qtd. in Aarons 682 ellipsis in orig.)
Malamud’s Jewishness had nothing to do with religion it was more a sense of commitment and nostalgia for the history and the fate of the Jews. His Jewishness, like that of his characters, was a progressive process. That is, the more he aged and read about the Jews, the more he felt Jewish. Janna Malamud Smith, his daughter, notes the same point although my father was not religious, there was something rabbi-like about him (16). She adds, Dads interest in his own Jewishness increased with age and knowledge (It helps us understand the nature of his Jewishness and its gradual development if we learn that Malamud’s marriage was a civil one—a marriage performed by a government official, not by a clergyman, for being out of the faith. He knew that his atheist father had sat ‘shiveh’ over him—mourning and saying the prayer for dead—when in 1945 he had decided to marry an Italian Catholic in Ann de Chiara, rather than a Jewess So, he wrote his father a letter explaining why for the sake of his life he had to follow his heart (Davis 11). By the passage of time, however, Malamud became one like his father. Janna Malamud Smith observes, He may have had times when he wished he’d married a Jewish woman
(211). He even let this feeling of his surface right in the eve of his daughter’s marriage. She recalls that night my father and I sat alone reading in the living room everyone else had gone to bed. He appeared to be concentrating on text but was ruminating. He put aside his book, cleared his throat, fumbled. He had my attention. You know he said, I wish you were marrying someone Jewish (212).

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