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The Fixer (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) [Paperback]

Bernard Malamud
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 April 1993 Penguin Twentieth Century Classics
Kiev, in the years before World War I, is a hotbed of anti-Semitism. When a 12-year-old Russian boy is found stabbed to death, his body drained of blood, the accusation of ritual murder is made against the Jews. Yokov Bok, a carpenter, is blamed, arrested and imprisoned without indictment.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (29 April 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140185151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140185157
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.8 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 623,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Brilliant [and] harrowing . . . Historical reality combined with fictional skill and beauty of a high order make [it] a novel of startling importance." ---Elizabeth Hardwick, "Vogue
"What makes it a great book, above and beyond its glowing goodness, has to do with something else altogether: its necessity...This novel, like all great novels reminds us that we must do something." -- Jonathan Safran Foer, author of" Everything Is Illuminated
"The Fixer deserves to rank alongside the great Jewish-American novels of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth." --"The Independent (London)
"A literary event in any season." --Eliot Fremont-Smith, "The New York Times
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) was an American author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American-Jewish authors of the twentieth century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
From the small crossed window of his room above the stable in the brickyard, Yakov Bok saw people in their long overcoats running somewhere early that morning, everybody in the same direction. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going Beyond The Pale 3 Feb 2010
I first read Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer", which I picked up for the now unimaginable sum of ten pence in a charity shop, over a dozen years ago. It struck me at that time as a powerful and even important work. Reading it again so many years later I wondered how it would hold up.

Yakov Bok, the Fixer of the title, is a free-thinking Jew whose trade is that of a handyman from the Pale in the Ukraine (where Jews are legally allowed to reside) in the last years of the Tsarist regime not long after the disastrous war that Russia lost against Japan, the aborted revolution that followed that defeat and the pogroms that diverted the Russian people down channels that were more acceptable to the Russian state.

Life is not going well for Bok, his wife has ran away with a Goy and work is hard to find within the Pale. He eventually bites the bullet, sells up and decides to move to nearby Kiev to look for a chance to improve his situation, perhaps to earn enough and emigrate from Russia. After a period of hardship in Kiev Bok hits on some "luck" and gains the patronage of a Russian gentleman, some well paid employment before eventually being offered the position of foreman at the Russian's Brick-factory. Everything is going well, except the Russian is a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds who doesn't know that Bok is of Jewish extraction. The factory is also sited in an area of Kiev that is out of bounds to Jews. When a twelve year old Christian boy is "ritually" murdered not far from the factory, a worker who Bok had previously caught thieving and who suspects that he is Jewish raises suspicions about him with the Police. Bok is arrested, his identity as a Jew is quickly ascertained and he becomes the number one suspect for the murder of the boy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely first rate historical novel 13 Jun 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I read this novel 40 years ago and wondered what it would be like to read again. Well, it was just as good as when I was in high school, perhaps even better now that I know history. This book opened an entire world to me of historical novels and stuck so vividly in my mind that it has been a basic pole of comparison ever since. The setting, of course, is in the waning days of Imperial Russia around a murder trial of a good man that is based purely on anti-semitism. It is still one of the best - great personalities, vivid historical evocations, and extreme subtlty all rolled into one. The artistry of this novel and its luminous prose ranks it up there with Yourcenar's finest works of historical fiction - the quality is that good.

Recommended for the parent hoping to introduce a child to the wonders of history as well as to the adult in search of a great learning experience. Also it is simply a great story.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great historical novel 2 May 2001
By A Customer
This is one of the few novels to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It focuses on a poor Jewish man imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Malamud does a great job in recreating czar era Russia. He also does a great job in showing the physical and mental struggles the main character goes through. This is one of the best American novels to come out of the 20th century and I give it my highest recommendation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On re-reading "The Fixer" 2 July 2013
Like 2 of your other reviewers, I also read Malamud's "The Fixer" not long after it was published and then again a couple of years ago. My reaction to it was the same as theirs, that it has stood the test of time well. After reading it the first time, I read his other novels but none gripped me as much as this one. In this respect, Malamud seems to me like Helen Dunmore whose 2 books on Leningrad ("The Siege" and "The Return") appealed to me much more than her other books because the historical background is so interesting.

However, unlike one of your reviewers, I actually paid full price for the book - 70p - and I assume that the current AMazon price is because the book is out of print.

Malamud's book is one in a long line of novels based in Russia which are better than any history book in providing a feeling for a much-misunderstood country.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  83 reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stirring Portrait of Injustice 27 Dec 2000
By Richard R - Published on
Yakov Bok, a rural Ukrainian handyman (a "fixer") in the years before World War I, yearns for something better. His luck has been down all his life, he can't make ends meet, his wife ran off, and what brings him the most injustice of all: he is a Jew. The strangling weight of anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia clubs the reader page after page and slowly grinds Yakov down when he is jailed for a crime he did not commit. Much of "The Fixer" is jail time, seen through Yakov's disbelieving yet cynical eyes.
Malamud won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Fixer", written in 1976. It was well-deserved. Yakov's struggle is as much with himself as with the gnawing injustice of the state, with the ignorance in Kiev, and the wickedness of local officials eager to see him imprisoned, even knowing he is not guilty. Yakov searches for the god of the Jews, failing to comprehend a god who would let his people be victimized so mercilessly. That Yakov's struggle is as much moral and philosophical as legalistic is the source of much of the book's significance, as well as its occasional tragi-comedy. When Yakov's father-in-law spends a small fortune in bribes to visit him in prison, they spend their precious ten minutes together debating theology. It turns out this scene is seminal because their debate - whether god has abandoned Yakov or vice versa - is the core of the tale. Later, the politico-historical context, the cynical manipulation of anti-Semitic sentiment in Russia, is outlined by Yakov's attorney, but this is a book of morality and justice, much more than of politics.
Yakov never loses his compassion for others, keeping a good thought for his faithless wife, for fellow prisoners, and even those jailers who show him occasional compassion. As Yakov's lucidity waivers in his worst moments of despair or physical weakness, so does the narrative. This is how Malamud does such a wonderful job of placing the reader in Yakov's icy cell to share his outrage and hopelessness. Yakov's confusion is mirrored in Malamud's prose. We suffer with the prisoner. "The Fixer" is a wonderful story, calling to mind Kafka's "The Trial" as well as the dense internal dialogues of Dostoevsky. Yakov Bok is not a hero, but manages to be heroic just the same.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the book upon which his reputation should rest 17 Dec 2000
By Orrin C. Judd - Published on
In chains all that was left of freedom was life, just existence; but to exist without choice was the same as death. -Bernard Malamud, The Fixer
In this National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, Bernard Malamud presents a fictionalized account of a notorious anti-Semitic incident, the arrest and eventual trial, following a great outcry in the West, of Mendel Beilis in pre-Revolutionary Kiev. Beilis was accused of murdering a Christian boy, despite evidence pointing toward the boy's own mother. After being held from 1911 to 1913, he was finally brought to trial, where he was exonerated.
In this novel the protagonist is Yakov Bok, a nominally Jewish handyman ("fixer")--nominally because he has abandoned his Jewish beliefs for a Spinoza influenced kind of "free thinking"--leaves his village after being cuckolded by his wife. Eventually ending up in Kiev, he one day comes upon a man collapsed in the street and decides to help him, despite noticing that he is wearing a Black Hundreds pin (symbol of a vicious anti-Semitic organization). The man, who turns out to be a local merchant who was merely drunk, offers Yakov a job managing his brickyard, not realizing that he is Jewish. Yakov accepts, despite much trepidation, goes to work under an assumed name, Yakov Ivanovitch Dologushev, and moves into an apartment in an area forbidden to Jews.
Once on the job he runs afoul of : the merchant's daughter, whose sexual advances he deflects; local boys, who he he chases out of the factory yard; and the employees, who he warns about stealing bricks. These seemingly petty disagreements prove to have disastrous results when a local boy is found murdered, stabbed repeatedly and drained of blood. Yakov, who the authorities have discovered is Jewish, is accused of committing the murder as a form of ritual killing to harvest Christian blood for use in some imagined rites for Passover celebration :
The ritual murder is meant to re-enact the crucifixion of our dear Lord. The murder of Christian children and the distribution of their blood among Jews are a token of their eternal enmity against Christendom, for in murdering the innocent Christian child, they repeat the martyrdom of Christ.
The victim is one of the boys that Yakov had chased, and both daughter and fellow employees are only too willing to give false testimony against him. The initial prosecutor assigned to the case is relatively friendly, and obviously skeptical about this theory of the case, but he does not last long.
His rivals and replacements try with great brutality to wring a confession from Yakov. In part, they are motivated by an understanding that the evidence they have against him is terribly inadequate : they are determined to keep the case from going to trial. Yakov, on the other hand, recognizes that he if he can just get to a courtroom he has a chance to clear himself, and Jews generally, of this blood libel. There follows a harrowing, years-long, battle of wills, in which Yakov takes on truly heroic dimensions : a simple, non-political, nonbeliever, is transformed before our eyes into a powerful symbol of resistance to anti-Semitism, injustice, tyranny and hatred. By the end of the story he resembles nothing so much as one of the Titans--an Atlas holding the weight of the world on his own shoulders; a Prometheus, having his innards picked out by carrion birds every day; or a Sisyphus, futilely pushing a boulder up a hill every day, only to have it roll back down every night. Yakov too seems sentenced by God to bear a punishment for all mankind, and he too bears up under it with superhuman strength and transcendent nobility. Superficially then it seems to resemble an existentialist novel, but Yakov derives his strength, and the story derives its universality and its power, from his determination to prove his innocence, a determination which would not matter to an existentialist.
Through the culture-consuming hegemony of the movies, Malamud is today best remembered for The Natural, but The Fixer is the book upon which his reputation should rest. It is a great novel; one that deserves a place on the shelf with the works of George Orwell, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Arthur Koestler, and the other great novelists of the Twentieth Century whose theme was the struggle of the individual against the machinations of the State and against the soul-destroying ideological pathologies which undergird totalitarian states.
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Intensity 24 Sep 2000
By Jon Linden - Published on
When I went to start Malamud's "The Fixer" I expected that I would find a work of great brilliance. Being that it was the first book ever to win both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, only done once since, I expected unusually inspiring prose. I was not disappointed. Malamud's depiction of a man, in prison, in terrible conditions, virtually concentration camp scenarios, of a man, accused of a crime he did not commit, due to anti-semitism in Russia during the period 1904 through 1907 or thereabouts.
Malamud not only gives us the full impact and feeling of the isolation, desolation and frustration of a prisoner in terrible conditions, waiting just for a "letter of indictment", not even knowing whether he would be accused of the terrible rumor that abounded. Malamud takes us through periods of hope for the prisoner, and then dashes those hopes. He takes us through the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and the struggle that such a combination creates with the concept of suicide.
Written without any fanciness in terms of high language, but using only words that one could understand with a 9th grade education, Malamud constructs what is a classic novel of our just past century. It reveals itself with both the absurdity of a Kafka story and the intensity of "Blindness" by Saramago (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1998). For serious thinkers of the human mind and the places it takes one in conditions of great extremity, this book is a must read item. To get close to the real feelings of prison hopelessness combined with intense anti-semitism, read Malamud's book and then come to a new understanding of the human condition and its obscurity as an individual in a world turned against one.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent novel about anti-semitism, politics 9 Dec 2005
By S Shepark - Published on
Yakov Bok is a humble Jewish fixer (carpenter) living in Russia in 1910. He leaves his small village and moves to Kiev, looking for work and a better life. His wife has left him for another man and he has no significant relations to speak of. It's a dangerous time to be Jewish, as the pogroms are widespread and practically government sanctioned. Pretending to be a gentile, Bok finds work with an anti-semite at a brickyard and moves into an area that is off limits for Jews. Things go well for a while, until a young Christian boy is killed and Bok finds himself framed for the murder.

Although there is no evidence against him, other than hysterical, unreliable anti-semite "witnesses", things look bad for Bok and he is thrown in prison to await a formal indictment.

The majority of the book covers Bok's time in prison and solitary confinement. It becomes clear the prosecution is dragging its feet, not delivering the indictiment, as they have a shaky chance of winning the case if it ever goes to trial.

It's a fast book, but a very painful and somewhat depressing one. It deals heavily with anti-Semitism. Some of the anti-semitic passages are almost breathtaking in their ferocity. It becomes very painful, at times almost (but not quite) tragi-comic. In particular, a lengthy sermon (?) given by a priest that basically likens the Jewish to vampires.

In many ways the book reminded me of "1984". A man up against the monolithic powers of the state. Not quite as imposing though, because Bok seems to grow stronger and more resiliant in his spirit even as his body and mind are broken. The prosecution repeatedly dangles a confession in his face but Bok refuses steadfastly to sign, even at the risk of triggering a pogrom. It's interesting to note that Bok is also an avowed aetheist, and stolidly refuses to seek solace in God. He reads the bible only as a way of keeping himself from going insane, and the only thing that really seems to comfort him is philosophy (Spinoza, in particular) and the philosophical concept of freedom.

Part of what is so painful is that for long stretches the entire world seems to be against him. EVERYONE he encounters is either a thug, a snitch, a backstabber (or all three!).

An excellent book. A fast read, but very painful.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that actually tells how it really was 9 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on
I am a sophomore at Orange High School and a child of Russian immigrants, but was born in the U.S. I had to read "The Fixer" as an English summer reading book, and I was completely moved. This book is probably the best book I have ever read, at least one that was assigned for school! When our teacher asked us if it was too offensive, I said "It is offensive at times. But it tells it how it really was, and it makes us feel just as Yakov Bok felt at the time of the persecution." I may be a high school student, but I know a good, mature book when I see one. This is a very-well written, moving book that is worth the while to read. But once you start, you may find yourself not putting the book down until you finish!
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