4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2012
Arguably I.B. Singer's greatest work, 'Shosha' is a hauntingly beautiful, wonderfully evoked and commendably unsentimental exploration of the lives of Polish Jews during the 1930s; in the period preceding the invasion of the country by the Nazis. The tale focuses around Aaron Greidinger, a young writer, and religiously uncertain Rabbi's son. Perhaps Singer's finest strength is his ability to evoke the often painful reality of choosing one's path in life, and here, Greidinger finds himself torn between the offer of an American visa (and thus the chance to escape an increasingly fragile, anti-Semitic Poland), and remaining in the country, to live with his childhood love - the mentally and physically handicapped Shosha. Singer also shows an extremely capable hand in writing on the very personal and emotional subjects of physical deformity and mental illness; and where other writers may have been mawkish or even crude in their depiction of the struggles of Shosha, Singer shows an incredible honesty and surety of touch.
There are one or two minor flaws in 'Shosha', though none of them take much away from the overall quality of the novel. Singer has a tendency to sometimes present the reader with chunks of obscure philosophy, in character discussions - and here, especially in the conversation between Greidinger, and a returning enemy and communist; it all seems rather forced and mawkish. Also, a little too much of the book is given up to the characters of Sam and Betty, an American couple involved in theater; and whilst in both, Singer has created a wonderfully apt evocation of the hidden selfishness and prejudice of much of modern America, they do take up a bit too much of the text. Still, these are small issues, in the context of the book as a whole. Singer's depiction of character, and in particular the struggle to create meaningful relationships, and to reconcile the concepts of life, death and the Jewish faith, with oneself, are absolutely masterful. His evocation of the cluttered, lively streets of the poorer side of Warsaw is equally good. For those looking for a complex, but highly engaging novel, which deals with the self, in a time of real strife and conflict, I would recommend 'Shosha', with no hesitation.
NB: I would recommend not reading the blurb of this 'Penguin Translated Texts' edition before finishing the text, as it gives away perhaps the most important plot point in the text.