Stumbling Into Modernity: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Cling to Tradition

2012 eLit Electronic Book Awards Gold Award in the Essay/
Creative Non-Fiction category


Isaac Bashevis Singer's Cling to Tradition

by Greg Masters

The novels, stories and memoirs of Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) are justly revered for their depiction of a population in Eastern Europe decimated by the Holocaust and, later, the immigrant’s struggle to acclimate to a new world and modern ways.

While he lovingly depicts the colorful characters and way of life of his Warsaw neighborhood at the beginning of the 20th century, intrusions arrive that disrupt everything – at first the railroads, then novels from Russia, Europe and America, and eventually Hitler’s armies.

This new book, Stumbling Into Modernity: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Cling to Tradition, by Greg Masters, takes an admiring, yet critical look at a body of literature that reflects a crossover, not only geographic, with immigration from Poland, but from traditional, tribal values treasured in the Jewish provinces of Europe and then questioned in the new, modern world of America.

While this study seeks a place in the modern canon for Singer’s work through an appreciation of his achievements, it wrestles with his limitations in continually attempting to reconcile his past with choices available in the present. As Singer attempts to extricate himself from the dogma and strictures of his father and to find his place in an ever-changing world, Greg Masters follows along to celebrate his writing, but also, with a thorough reading in critical analysis, to critique Singer’s responses.

Singer’s attachment to the past, this book argues, crippled his character’s hopes and the perspective of the author himself.

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