The Brothers Ashkenazi
By I.J Singer
(Other Press, Paperback, 9781590512906, 432pp.)
Publication Date: October 19, 2010
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In the Polish city of Lodz, the brothers Ashkenazi grew up very differently in talent and in temperament. Max, the firstborn, is fiercely intelligent and conniving, determined to succeed financially by any means necessary. Slower-witted Jacob is strong, handsome, and charming but without great purpose in life. While Max is driven by ambition and greed to be more successful than his brother, Jacob is drawn to easy living and decadence. As waves of industrialism and capitalism flood the city, the brothers and their families are torn apart by the clashing impulses of old piety and new skepticism, traditional ways and burgeoning appetites, and the hatred that grows between faiths, citizens, and classes. Despite all attempts to control their destinies, the brothers are caught up by forces of history, love, and fate, which shape and, ultimately, break them.
First published in 1936, The Brothers Ashkenazi quickly became a best seller as a sprawling family saga. Breaking away from the introspective shtetl tales of classic nineteenth-century writers, I. J. Singer brought to Yiddish literature the multilayered plots, large casts of characters, and narrative sweep of the traditional European novel. Walking alongside such masters as Zola, Flaubert, and Tolstoy, I . J. Singer’s premodernist social novel stands as a masterpiece of storytelling.
Israel Joshua Singer, the older brother of Nobel Prize–winning Isaac Bashevis Singer, was born in 1893 in Bilgoraj, Poland, the second of four children of a rabbi. In 1916 he contributed to Yiddish newspapers in Warsaw and then in Kiev, and in the latter city his short story, “Pearls,” was published, which brought him immediate recognition. In 1921 I. J. Singer was hired as a correspondent for the Jewish Daily Forward. In 1927 he wrote his first novel, Steel and Iron, which was followed five years later by Yoshe Kalb. I. J. Singer came to the United States in 1934, and within two years The Brothers Ashkenazi was published, a work that was not only an instant success but was also destined to become a classic in its time. He died in New York on February 10, 1944.
"A wonderful novel."
“The book has the grand sweep of Tolstoy…pitch perfect artistry and pace.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The Brothers Ashkenazi rates a place on any shelf devoted to modern works of art.”
“A very powerful story has been seized upon by a very powerful story-teller…Singer has a stirring gift of narrative; he always writes with verve, sometimes with intensity; his book has magnitude and color and, as it were, a consciousness of its weighty theme.”
—The New York Times Book Review