Sunday 6 May 2007

8. The King of the Fields

This is a novel by the now deceased but very prolific Isaac Bashevis Singer, who I first discovered (in the form of his collection of stories, Gimpel the Fool) in an anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia. Since then, I've learned a lot about this author's vegetarian/animal rights' activism, which is cool. I really liked Gimpel the Fool, but this one is only so so. I'm posting a review I found on because it's funny and will explain The King of the Fields better than I can right now (I just finished marking on Friday, so I'm semi-comatose.)

"From Publishers Weekly
The Nobel laureate's disappointing interpretation of primitive history, translated from the Yiddish by the author, depicts the transition of Poland from a a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural land whose new rulers "called themselves Poles because in their language pola meant field. This is not, as one might expect from Singer, a fanciful excursion into the realm of anthropological magic, charms and mysticism; rather, the earthbound characters spend much of their time raping, killing, acting out sexual perversions and tending to bodily functions. Women are paradoxically portrayed: when they are not being dragged off by their hair and addressing their men as deities, they are powerful, amazon-like specimens. The novel also suffers from an incongruous time frame: at least one character calls her father Tatele, a Yiddish diminutive, and a Jewish cobbler from post-Talmudic Babylon and a Christian bishop somehow find themselves among the prehistoric Poles. This encounter allows Cybula, one in a succession of kings of the fields, to engage in simplistic philosophizing about the origins of the universe, god, the vicious cycle of human cruelties and the like - that is, when he isn't busy sleeping with both his wife and her mother.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc."

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