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    The Polish Nobel Laureates series: Isaac Bashevis Singer

    Isaac Bashevis Singer was a Polish-born American Jewish writer who wrote and published first in Yiddish and later translated himself into English with the help of editors and collaborators. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1978 was awarded to him “for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life”.

    Isaac Bashevis Singer grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Warsaw, where the main language was Yiddish. Singer’s father, a rabbi, worked in a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school for the study of sacred texts. Singer began studies to become a rabbi himself but decided to devote his life to writing. He emigrated to the United States in 1935 and settled in New York, where he found work as a writer, journalist and translator. Singer left behind a rich body of work, including about 20 novels and several books for children*.

    In his work, the Nobel Prize winner reflected the topography of Warsaw with such precision that it was possible to draw a map of the pre-war city on the basis of his stories without any problems, for example, “The Family Moskat”. During constant relocations, he often lost all identity documents, and this feature was inherited by the heroes of his novels. Singer learned Polish in order to read Mickiewicz or Słowacki but he was never fluent in Polish.

    Literary critics, especially Jewish ones, often call Singer ‘a pornographer’ because of his boldness in presenting the erotic sphere of life. Its protagonists are not ashamed of their own bodies, they succumb to their passions, and even derive pleasure from jealousy. Singer’s work is often compared to the works of Prus and Orzeszkowa but he admitted that he did not know these Polish writers.

    Literature was a memory book for Singer and, as fate would have it, he fell ill with memory loss. He died at the age of 87 and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in New Jersey.

    *He wrote stories for children only in his old age.

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