About Bernard Malamud

May 19, 2006 at 7:45 am (General)

Hello there! Here, some information about writer Bernard Malamud.

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Bernard Malamud

Author of eight novels and numerous short stories, Bernard Malamud preferred to view himself as a universal writer who “happened to be Jewish, also American.” Malamud’s diverse subjects, varied readers, and prestigious national awards underscore his status as a major twentieth century writer and a prominent American Jewish author.

Malamud consistently transformed the raw materials of his life into imaginative fiction. Born in 1914 to Max and Bertha Malamud, hard-working Russian Jews who ran a Brooklyn grocery (the setting for The Assistant), the author attended Erasmus High School, received a B.A. from City College and an M.A. from Columbia University. After teaching evenings in New York City high schools for several years, Malamud moved to Oregon with his wife Ann and their young son Paul. For a decade he taught at Oregon State University in Corvallis, the subject of his academic satire, A New Life. During that period, he published some of his finest fiction: The Natural, an allegorical baseball story made into a film; The Assistant, and The Magic Barrel, a short story collection that won the National Book Award.

In 1961 Malamud accepted a teaching position at Bennington College that allowed him to spend the warm months in Vermont and the winters in New York City. The move was also conducive to his writing. The Fixer, somewhat based on Russian persecution of Mendel Beiliss, a Jew, won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Within the next decade, Malamud published Pictures of Fidelman, a series of stories connected by an Italian setting and Jewish American protagonist, The Tenants, a bleak encounter between an African American and Jewish American writer, and Rembrandt’s Hat, a short story collection. Dubin’s Lives, which appeared in 1979, includes a variety of familiar settings (Vermont, New York, and Italy) as well as characters and themes.

Although his last completed novel, God’s Grace (1982), is his gloomiest, with its post–nuclear war setting and cast of island primates, it contains a reflective, tormented Jew who struggles to understand and to control his grim environment. In fact, though the settings and situations of Malamud’s works vary, his bumbling, suffering, at times comic, heroes resemble each other. Whether a Jewish grocer, college professor, novelist, artist, fixer or even Italian assistant or black angel, all are students of life who learn the importance of being human. In Malamud’s fiction, a good Jew is a good man. Malamud’s world is peopled with Jews and non-Jews in frequently surprising ways. In The Fixer, a Jewish spy betrays an embattled prisoner, while a Russian guard attempts to save him. In The Assistant, a Jew transforms a gentile into a good person and therefore into a good Jew.

Though Malamud’s fiction reflects his immigrant Jewish background and American experience, above all it reveals a unique imagination which can mingle history and fantasy, comedy and tragedy. A combination of such elements seems to characterize The People, the novel Malamud was composing when he died. In contrast to his later, more pessimistic works, The People, published posthumously in 1989, unites a lonely Jewish immigrant with a needy Indian tribe in what promises to be a mutually beneficial association.

Even without The People, Malamud’s legacy is enormous. A leader of the post-World War II Jewish literary renaissance, Malamud changed the landscape of American literature, introducing mainstream America to marginal ethnic characters, to immigrant urban settings, to Jewish-American dialect and, most important, to a world with which Americans could empathize. Something of a magician, Malamud transformed the particular into the universal so that poor Jews symbolized all individuals struggling to survive with dignity and humanity.

Evelyn Avery
Towson University


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