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

Even though he left Poland for the US in 1935, the close-knit, myth-haunted life of the Jewish shtetl fired Singer’s imagination for the rest of his career. As did the Yiddish language of his youth, with its inalienable cargo of memories, which he never abandoned. ‘Gimpel the Fool’ – its fame, and Singer’s, accelerated by Saul Bellow’s translation – tells of a pitiable village shlemiel. The cuckold baker Gimpel serves as an archetype of hapless gullibility as his adored wife bears children to one lover after another. Yet the fool becomes a saint as well. Singer grants him transcendence as he looks forward to reward in another life, “without complication, without ridicule, without deception”.

First published 1957; in Collected Stories, Penguin Modern Classics, 2011