cover image Old Truths and New Clichés: Essays by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Old Truths and New Clichés: Essays by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Edited by David Stromberg. Princeton Univ, $24.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-691-21763-5

Translator Stromberg (Baddies) brings together 19 essays by Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) in this touching collection. The essays, written primarily in the 1960s, are broadly divided into three sections, covering the literary arts, Yiddish and Jewish life, and personal writings and philosophy. In “Why Literary Censorship is Harmful,” Singer argues that, in the future, “decent and socially acceptable” speech won’t win out, but “greater beauty in expression will come together with a stronger desire to elevate the human word to its highest level.” In “Literature for Children and Adults,” Singer laments that there aren’t enough words to convey human emotions. He’s at his best when he writes about Yiddish and Jewish culture, notably in “Yiddish, the Language of Exile,” in which he argues that a Jewish distinctiveness arises from the diaspora, and in “Yiddish and Jewishness,” which defends Yiddish as a language of individuality. In “The Making of a First Book,” about his experience writing Satan in Goray , he notes, “Thank God I was controversial.” An afterword containing passages in the original Yiddish that Singer cut from his English translations and photos of his edits are a nice plus. The author’s fans will be delighted by this intimate anthology. (Apr.)