cover image Meshugah


Isaac Bashevis Singer. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-374-20847-9

Free love, paranormal phenomena, God, the Holocaust and avant-garde art are among the preoccupations of refugees from Hitler's Europe who cluster in Manhattan in 1953. Singer's extraordinary posthumous novel concerns a romantic triangle (or perhaps more aptly, pentagram) one apex of which is Miriam Zalkin, a 27-year-old Polish emigre and death-camp survivor. Miriam worships 67-year-old Max Aberdam, a brash, womanizing (though married) stock-market speculator; she wants to divorce her unbalanced, gun-toting poet husband; and she has an affair with Aaron Greidinger, 47, Yiddish newspaper columnist and novelist (a character very much like Singer himself). As if this weren't complicated enough, Tzlova, Max's housemaid and ex-mistress, has an affair with Aaron; and Max's wife, a medium, receives messages from Karl Marx and Jesus. When Aaron stumbles on secrets from Miriam's past--she was a teen prostitute with Nazi clients and a camp kapo who beat Jewish prisoners--he faces a moral dilemma that is only resolved after Max, Miriam and Aaron meet in Israel. The novel's title (Yiddish for crazy) evokes Singer's pessimistic vision of the world as an insane asylum, but also conveys something of the manic energy he brings to a deceptively comic tale that distills his marvelous storytelling gifts. (Apr.)