Places: Enemies

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Sonim, de Geshichte fun a Liebe, 1966 (English translation, 1972)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*New York City

*New EnemiesYork City. Largest city in the United States and the first destination for most of its European immigrants during the early twentieth century. In perhaps no other city, even Israel’s Tel Aviv, could Isaac Bashevis Singer have so keenly observed post-Holocaust Jewish psychology. As his fictional Polish immigrant Herman Broder moves about New York City, making his living ghostwriting books and lectures for a rich rabbi, he mingles with Jews of several economic strata and varying political opinions and religious practices. In this microcosm of world Jewishness, the effects of the Holocaust may be observed everywhere. Some survivors keep the religious law, while others despise it. Broder’s mistress hates God because of her experiences in the German death camps. Others, like her own mother, love God all the more because of what she has suffered. Broder’s own brain is still stocked with the lore of the Jewish Diaspora and Hebraic learning, now useful to him only because of the types of books he writes.

Perhaps it is only in post-Holocaust New York that a man such as Broder could so easily fall into the predicament he soon faces. After he marries the servant who saved his life in Poland, his first wife, Tamar, whom he had believed lost in the camps, reappears. As if two wives, after the secular law, were not enough, his mistress, Masha, then tricks him into marrying her according to Jewish law.

Singer wrote his novels initially in Yiddish, the language in which he felt most artistically comfortable, though his largest readership was always in English. Nevertheless, even in translation, the Yiddish-tinged New York speech of his characters remains essential to the total effect of his books. Alternately sad and awkwardly funny, these people, whose lives were scrambled in another world, question the efficacy of their Jewishness but cannot cast it off in American assimilation.

*Catskill Mountains

*Catskill Mountains. Resort area in New York State that is a popular vacation spot for Jews; a place where the Jewish heritage and American affluence make an uneasy compromise, and where many Jewish entertainers enjoy their first successes. Broder, too, is able to experience here the few moments of respite from anxiety and alienation that are allowed him, before he returns to the city and its entanglements. Singer sets a brief romantic interlude in the Catskill Mountains, suggesting what might have been possible could more New York Jews have freed themselves from city restraints and their own fears and inhibitions and ventured deeper into the American interior.

*Poland

*Poland. Eastern European country from which many New York Jews emigrated–especially after the Holocaust. In Enemies Poland exists only in the memories of his characters. To many of its characters, the Poland of memory and imagination seems more real than either New York City or the Catskills. Nevertheless, these memories direct the lives of all the novel’s characters. Broder, for example, constantly seeks places to hide, in the unlikely event that Nazis should appear on American streets. The hayloft in Poland where he eluded Nazi agents still haunts his dreams, even as he lies beside Yadwiga, the Polish Gentile servant who hid him there at risk to her own life and who is now his wife in the United States. Broder learned well the lesson of hiding in Poland; in New York, he finally evades his three wives by disappearing.

Masha, who always talks of the German death camps, even during lovemaking, commits suicide. Yadwiga embraces the Judaism for which she yearned even as a peasant girl in Poland. Even after Broder deserts her, she looks forward to the birth of his child. Tamar, who has always loved causes more than she loves people, alone has learned from her Holocaust experiences the uses of adversity. She aids Yadwiga and establishes for herself a new life and career in America.

Sources for Further StudyAlexander, Edward. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A thorough and insightful work. The chapter devoted to Enemies emphasizes the importance of the Holocaust in the novel and in Jewish intellectual history.Denman, Hugh, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer: His Work and His World. Boston: Brill, 2002.Farrell, Grace, ed. Critical Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.Farrell, Grace, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. A collection of interviews in which Enemies is frequently mentioned. Singer points out that he understands Herman Broder’s lack of belief in God but does not share his attitude.Friedman, Lawrence S. Understanding Isaac Bashevis Singer. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. Shows how the novel reflects its post-Holocaust setting. The Jews who survived and immigrated to America had to deal with religious doubt, along with their loss of a common language and of a sense of community.Hadda, Janet. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Lee, Grace Farrell. From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Systematically traces the development of Singer’s thought, classifying the late work Enemies as a story of redemption. Although Herman exiles himself from God, Yadwiga and Tamara affirm their faith by nurturing a Jewish child.Noiville, Florence. Isaac B. Singer: A Life. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.Qiao, Guo Qiang. The Jewishness of Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.Wirth-Nesher, Hana. City Codes: Reading the Modern Urban Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.Wolitz, Seth L., ed. The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.
Categories: Places