The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

assistantTIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner ,The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they (family) will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him. In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.

Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil.

The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not. Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be – the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact.

I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised.

To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

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