PPRL: The Fixer, by Bernard Malamud (winner, 1967)

Remember the over the top satirical anti-Semitism in Borat? Jews as egg-laying, shapeshifting cockroaches? It's brilliant and satisfying to watch, because it so ruthlessly skewers the grossly bigoted, the xenophobic and the racist. But what it's easy to forget when the film ends and the lights come back on is the fact that such notions (Jews are evil, Jews are monsters, Jews are inferior) are deeply rooted in terrifying pockets of actual, living history.

The Fixer gives a glimpse of one such pocket. So if you're shopping for a good tsarist Russia-era novel about the horrors of early twentieth century anti-Semitism, pick it up!

** end general interest portion of post **

Some Quotes As Jumping-Off Points for Discussion, Paper-Writing, and General Consideration

"She had stopped before a huge wooden crucifix at the side of the road, crossed herself, and then slowly sinking to her knees, began to hit her head against the dark ground."

- Discuss the intersection of superstition and religion in the novel. Consider the racist mythologies invented and disseminated by anti-Semitic, Christian Russians. How do they reflect on their perpetuators and what are the consequences of those wives tales?

"Yakov considered dismounting, knocking on a strange door and begging for a night's lodging."

- In what ways does The Fixer resemble a fable or folkloric tale? Consider stock characters and tropes such as old men/women, the stubborn horse, the ferryman, the ghosts who visit Yakov in his dreams, never-ending misfortune and the miscarriage of justice, etc. 

"Nobody can burn an idea even if they burn the man." 

- How does self-education and reflection help Yakov transcend limitations (of the shtetl, of his socioeconomic class, and later, in prison, of his anguished mental state)? How much can knowledge be his salvation and how much does it curse him?

"Something that unexpectedly bothered him was that he was no longer using his tools." 

- Consider the concept of tools in the story, both as literal devices and metaphorical representations. How do they reflect Yakov's very strong value of self-reliance? How have they helped him build his life and how have they constrained him?

"Being born a Jew meant being vulnerable to history, including its worst errors."

- How does the idea of fate play into Yakov's story? What about free will? Consider this quote: "We're all in history, that's sure, but some are more than others. Jews more than some." How does history inform the future, and shape it? At what point is a man's destiny out of his hands thanks to the actions of other men who've gone before him?

"Those who persecute the innocent were themselves never free."

"Well good luck and no hard feelings, Berezhinsky said uneasily. 'Duty is duty. The prisoner's the prisoner and the guard's the guard.'"

- Explain how the antagonists of The Fixer aren't any more free than Yakov. Consider the very limiting hierarchal structures of both his country and the jail he languishes in. How is the macrocosm of Russia's class system mirrored by the microcosm of the prison?

"What it amounts to, Little Father, is that whether you wanted it or not you had your chance; in fact many chances, but the best you could give us with all good intentions is the poorest and most reactionary state in Europe."

- What is the significance of the ending scene between Yakov and Nicholas the Second? What is the subtext of their discussion, and of their relationship? (Man to man? ruler to subject? Christian to Jew? Christian to freethinker?)

"Your poor boy is a hemophiliac, something missing in the blood."

- Malamud deliberately includes this bit of history in the scene between Yakov and the tsar. Unpack the declaration, considering what implications Yakov could be making about Nicholas's politics, his character, his religion, etc.