‘Gimpel the Fool’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated by Saul Bellow

The vivid world of Isaac Bashevis Singer has always fascinated me. He creates characters and places, and a world which is its own. This story has the quality of a fable but not in a facile way. Singer tells the story of a man in the village taken to be a fool partly because he marries a woman who has had several partners and continues to deceive him. But at her death there is a kind of reconciliation and acceptance by him of what it means to be foolish to oneself and to the eyes of the world. I love the fact that Singer carried this story along with others, through his time in the US. These stories derive from the specificity of his background and yet they speak directly with their clearly rendered characters, sense of community, human weaknesses and foibles on display. There is a real humanity and breadth of understanding in his work. Sometimes, stories based on folk tales can feel contrived, but his never do. They are based in the physical reality of life in all its primal ways and instincts.

Collected in Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories, FSG, 1957. Currently available in the Collected Stories, Penguin, 2020

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