A Day of Pleasure : Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw
Isaac Bashevis Singer received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978 “for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life”. This gifted and prolific journalist, novelist, and writer of short stories might almost be called a historian as well. Regardless of whether he is weaving an intriguing tale involving fictional characters caught in the horrendous intersection of time and place known as the Holocaust, or telling simple stories of his own childhood in Poland, Singer brings his life experiences to bear. In A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw, both his unique personal experiences and the universal truths he uncovers are evident. The stories contained therein were written primarily for the adolescent reader, but they provide valuable insight into the author – the culture from which he came and the talents with which he was blessed. This essay will examine the background and personal attributes that contributed to Singer’s extraordinary success as a storyteller.
Singer was born in a small Polish village to parents who were steeped in Hasidic Judaism. His father was a Hasidic rabbi, and his mother was the daughter of a rabbi who followed that same tradition. As described in A Day of Pleasure, Hasidic Jews felt especially bound by ritual and tradition, and they were committed to their religious studies as a life-long vocation. As Singer says, “Our house was a house of learning. My father sat all day long and studied the Talmud. Whenever my mother had a free minute, she glanced into a holy book”.
Though both his parents were learned, Singer’s life in the Polish countryside and later in largely segregated Polish neighborhoods in Warsaw might seem an unexpectedly narrow “perspective” from which a world-renowned writer would emerge. Though his early experiences were admittedly rather “homogenized,” Singer’s “world was that of East-European Jewry – at once very rich and very poor, peculiar and exotic but also familiar with all human experience”. Additionally, the boy was always exceptionally curious about the outside world, as well as those characters, situations, and incidents making up his personal microcosm. “I often asked my parents questions that even they were at a loss to answer,” says Singer. Thus, his rich Jewish heritage and his innate curiosity are two factors that undoubtedly contributed to his writing success.Paper Masters