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The Slave [Paperback]

Isaac Bashevis Singer , I.B. Singer , C. Hemley
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Jun 1974
A drama set against the background of 17th century Poland. It is a love story rooted in the folklore of the period. The author also wrote "The Magician of Lublin", "Old Love", "Shosha", "The Estate", "Family Moskat" and "The Image and Other Stories".

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (27 Jun 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140037926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140037920
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 10.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 550,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If anybody else had written this story, it would have been ten times as long. The sheer economy of Singer's writing (recalling a Yiddish Camus or Steinbeck) ensures that the reader is always keen for more (there's some profound stuff about the ironic juxtaposition between the light touch that characterizes Singer's prose and the sheer ennui of Jacob's isolation phase just waiting to be written. By somebody else).
So marvel at the detail packed into the pages. And ignore the stuff about "the sounds and smells of the countryside" and "the love of simple folk close to nature" (honestly!) in the jacket blurb. OK, so the "natural" (or is it naturalistic?) backdrop is dazzlingly and painstakingly created but it is just one element of a profound, involving and elemental tale about two parallel and interwined struggles - Jacob's inner wrangles with his God and the requirements of his religion, and his fight to find a place to exist within the shifting Jewish social structure of post-Chmielnicki Poland.
The character of Wanda/Sarah is a key part of both of these struggles. Is she an expertly created, genuinely sympathetic character, or merely a prop for Jacob's own worldly and other-worldly travails? A bit of both, probably.
In the final analysis, Singer combines a brilliant evocation of spiritual and physical isolation (particularly in the first part of the story) with an adventure that manages to be uplifting, sad, swashbuckling, and ultimately unputdownable. Despite Jacob's rather alienating piety toward the end (compare this with the sympathy we feel for his earlier struggles and doubts), Singer's story rattles along to its conclusion. He has us hook, line and sinker. Great stuff.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
An absolutely beautiful work; Jacob, a Jewish slave, falls in love with his master's daughter. When a ransom is paid securing the freedom of Jacob, he is taken back to his people, only to realise that he cannot live without her. He sets about reuniting them, yet knows that his people will not accept her... an astoundingly moving tale concerning the bigotries of religion, and the true power of love. A true education. You will not put it down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and tragic 20 Dec 2011
A rich, poignant, deep, tragic and somber novel of love, faith and spirituality. Four years after the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648 in which tens of thousands of Jews were massacred by Cossack hordes, a pious Jew Jacob, exists as a slave ,captured during the massacres in the mountains of Poland for gentile, peasants. Treated like a beast, he is shown mercy and tenderness by his master's beautiful daughter Wanda, who he falls in love with.
When he returns to how own Jewish town, Jacob cannot forget Wanda and brings her back to his home as a convert to Judaism. But as conversion was forbidden in that time and place, he cannot reveal her gentile birth and to cover up this, and not let this be revealed by her Polish accent, he must pass her off as a mute. Her name is now Sarah.

Despite her great reservoir of kindness, and piety she is ill treated by most of the community. Jacob has to also forebear the capricious cruelty of the local Polish nobleman Adam Pilsidsky. Before Wanda dies in childbirth she reveals that she is of gentile birth. As a result of pressure from the narrow minded hypocrites within the community especially the execrable Gershon, Sarah is given a donkey's burial, and the baby boy she has delivered declared not a part of the community. But he is looked after by a good hearted couple and is fetched by his father who takes him to the Land of Israel. 20 years pass before Jacob returns and a great miracle takes place to show that Sarah's (Wanda) soul was indeed that of a daughter of Israel. Full of spiritual phenomena, as well as the rich superstitions of the time, this novel will excite those interested in such subjects and is a classic and jewel of Jewish literature by a master in that craft.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is a beautiful, spare book about a great, forbidden passion, in which two cultures clash with tragic and yet strangely uplifting results. The Slave is Jacob, a survivor of unspeakable horrors in the 1648 Polish revolution - having lost his entire family and become enslaved in desperate and degrading circumstances, he strives to keep his religion and his inner self intact. What he discovers is an unexpected love in a Polish peasant, Wanda, who though simple is in fact intelligent and deep. There is an air of destiny to them.

The book largely takes the form of Jacob's inner dialogue, which is religious and scholarly, a natural outsider who strives to be good in terms that make sense to himself. This is an alien world of unpredictable dangers, race hatred, and bizarre superstitions that overturn his views of the universe as a good and just place - enough to enable his to cross the barriers he faces as he struggles to create a life for himself and then with Wanda. I found this deeply moving, masterfully translated into terms that I could comprehend and empathize with.

In addition, there is much to learn in this about the history of the Jews in Poland. Singer romanticises nothing and is hard on everyone concerned, with perhaps the exception of the lovers and their constant dread. It adds up to a truly vivid portrait of a time, yet played out with universal philosophical dilemmas. Jacob's is an extraordinary journey, believable and moving.

Warmly recommended. I will never forget this life.
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