By Leonard Unger
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Extra resources for AMERICAN WRITERS, Volume 4
Emerging from ghettos and shtetls, the latter share in the new industrialism and radicalism. Older Jews cling to Torah and prayers, watching bewilderedly as their children turn revolutionaries to redeem mankind. Events revolve around pious Caiman Jacoby and to a lesser extent the decadent Count Wladislaw Jampolski. As Caiman's fortunes rise, the Count's decline; leasing the dispossessed nobleman's estate or "manor," Caiman becomes wealthy. On the manor he wins and loses a world; there he watches his children grow, leave his house, and fashion their own lives.
A more certain intruder is Satan or one of his myriad agents, who prevent life from being neutral by forcing man to do either right or wrong. Blessed with an imagination given to sacred visions and profane apparitions, Singer draws occasionally upon Jewish mystic lore for angels but more frequently for demons, imps, and spirits. Sporting names like Samael, Asmodeus, Ketev Mriri, and Lilith, they serve as a "compositional shorthand" or "spiritual stenography"—enabling Singer to embody quickly his conviction that the thinnest line separates truth from appearance, the supernatural from the natural, virtue from sin.
Whereas The Family Moskat has been undervalued, Satan in Goray has been overpraised. Written in 1932, the latter launched its twenty-eight-year-old author's "black-mirror" concern with Satan. A miracleand-cabala narrative indebted to Yiddish gothics like S. Ansky's The Dybbuk and H. Leivick's The Golem, Satan in Goray is less novel than loosely linked vignettes. Singer here probes deeply the Jewish Messianic dream and the moral gap between the ideal and real. Borrowing from history, he chronicles the spiritual annihilation of a seventeenth-century community by the followers of a false Messiah.