Bernard Malamud

A writer who used the Jew as a metaphor for humankind.

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"The window was open," the bird sighed; adding after a moment, “I’m running. I’m flying but I’m also running.”
“From whom?" asked Edie with interest.
"Anti-Semites?" they all said. “That’s from who."
"What kind of anti-Semites bother a bird?"

It is harder than it might look to classify Bernard Malamud. Is he a comic writer? The short story “The Jewbird,” featuring a “skinny bird” named Schwartz with a taste for matjes herring, is, in addition to being one of Malamud’s most beloved works of short fiction, a gem of absurdist humor. And yet, Malamud is possessed, as John Updike has it, of “that touch of traditional religious resignation which converts depression to the cosmic humor.” In novels like The Assistant (1957) and The Fixer (1966), Malamud created classic American fiction on traditionally Jewish themes: sin, redemption, guilt, Bernard Malamud

and shame. Like Isaac Bashevis Singer, the writer whom he most resembled, Malamud’s nuanced understanding of Jewish culture and history created a world that is part shtetl, part ghetto, part metropolis. Malamud’s world was inescapably Jewish, and yet much of what defined it was its relation with the non-Jewish world at large.

Malamud was born in 1914. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and he was raised in Brooklyn. His father owned a grocery store, much like Morris Bober in The Assistant, and his mother had had a love of the stage before dying when Bernard was 15. After attending City College and Columbia, he spent a number of years as an instructor at Oregon State University while crafting his first literary works. Malamud would go on to serve as a professor of writing at Bennington College in Vermont for decades.

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