cover image The Certificate

The Certificate

Isaac Bashevis Singer. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12029-0

A bittersweet posthumous finale to a distinguished career, this novel by the 1976 Nobel laureate returns one last time to the now-vanished universe of Polish Jewry between the world wars. Its narrator, David Bendiger, is a would-be writer, ``at eighteen and a half . . . no longer a day student'' but still a dreamer, ``digging away at eternal questions'' and trying to survive on his own in 1920s Warsaw. Offered the opportunity of a certificate that will permit him to emigrate to Palestine, he vacillates among three women--Sonya, a simple working girl; Edusha, a sexually active young Communist; and Minna, a daughter of the once-rich bourgeoisie--unable to decide whom he should choose. At the same time, he is pummeled by the movements that have shaped Jewish life in this century--communism, Zionism and the Jewish Enlightenment--while he tries to reconcile himself to the distance he has come from his Orthodox upbringing. Singer tells David's story with cool detachment, allowing the young man's mix of self-importance and self-doubt to give his narration a fine, ironic edge. As events swirl around David, plunging him into a whirlpool of lost loves and family tensions, he grows before our eyes, maturing into a wounded but wise adult, one who comes to realize the futility of his struggles. Although written early in the author's career, this novel languished untranslated until now. It proves to be vintage Singer, a welcome addition to his oeuvre. (Nov.)