Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Fixer is a novel by Bernard Malamud published in 1966 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction (his second) and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Fixer provides a fictionalized version of the Beilis case. Menahem Mendel Beilis was a Jew unjustly imprisoned in Tsarist Russia. The "Beilis trial" of 1913 caused an international uproar and Russia backed down in the face of world indignation.

The book was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name starring Alan Bates (Yakov Bok) who received an Oscar nomination.

Plot summary

The novel is about Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman or "fixer". While living in Kiev without official papers, Bok is arrested on suspicion of murder when a Christian boy is killed during Passover. Jailed without being officially charged and denied visitors or legal counsel, Bok is treated poorly and interrogated repeatedly. Among other things, he is asked about his political views, and replies that he is apolitical. During his many months in jail, he has time to contemplate his sad life and human nature in general. He finally finds it in his heart to forgive his former wife, who left him just before the novel began. This act of forgiveness is symbolically important in Bok's spiritual growth.

The novel ends with Bok finally being charged and brought to trial. In the final scene, on his way to court, he has an imaginary dialogue with the Tzar. Bok blames the Tzar for ruling over the most backward and regressive regime in Europe. He also famously concludes "there is no such thing as an apolitical man, especially a Jew."

Plagiarism controversy

Descendants of Mendel Beilis have long argued that in writing The Fixer, Malamud plagiarized from the 1926 English edition of Beilis's memoir, The Story of My Sufferings. One of Beilis's sons made such claims in correspondence to Malamud when The Fixer was first published. A 2011 edition of Beilis's memoir, co-edited by one of his grandsons, claims to identify 35 instances of plagiarism by Malamud.

Responding to the allegations of plagiarism made by Beilis's descendants, Malamud's biographer Philip Davis acknowledged "some close verbal parallels" between Beilis's memoir and Malamud's novel. Davis argued, however, "When it mattered most, [Malamud's] sentences offered a different dimension and a deeper emotion."

Jewish Studies scholar Michael Tritt has characterized the relationship between Malamud's The Fixer and Beilis's The Story of My Sufferings as one of "indebtedness and innovation".

In popular culture

In the fifth season episode, "At The Codfish Ball", of Mad Men, Don Draper was shown reading the book. Though his wife insinuates that his interest in the book is only to appear more cultured to his visiting Canadian in-laws, Don suggests his interest in the book is genuine.


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