cover image More Stories from My Father's Court

More Stories from My Father's Court

Isaac Bashevis Singer. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-374-21343-5

Originally published between 1955 and 1960 as a series of columns in the Jewish Daily Forward, and now issued in Singer's fifth posthumous collection, these 28 autobiographical sketches are set in and around the beth din (rabbinical court) run by Singer's father in their native Warsaw in the early 20th century. These brief stories lack the gravity of Nobelist Singer's more substantial works, but cumulatively conjure up the clannish, confounding and often melancholy world of ghetto Jewry. The young SingerDwho as narrator uses techniques that clearly are fictionalDobserves some marital consternation: a man complains to the rabbi about his unfaithful wife, yet acknowledges the cuckold ""brings some joy into the house""; another, seeking forgiveness from the fianc e he dumped, reunites with her after 12 years, leaving Singer inspired ""to write a storybookDfull of secrets and mysteries."" At another point, the author declares, ""one person can never really know another""; he can't decide whether a traveling salesman trusts the wife he leaves behind or whether he simply doesn't care what she does. Leviant's translation renders Singer's prose in an appropriately contemporary vein: ""Regret is not businesslike,"" declares a man sued by an old woman who wanted him to say kaddish (the prayer for the dead) for her. After watching the ritual slaughter of chickens, the young narrator asks, ""How could God see all this and remain silent?"" PerhapsDif one can speculate about the author's unspoken rejoinderDbecause Warsaw Jews were to see much worse. (Nov.)