King of the Fields, The

King of the Fields, The
Image courtesy of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
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Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel portrays an age of superstition and violence in a country emerging from savagery. In this primitive era the people of the valley of the Vistula are called Poles because in their language pola means field. They are terrorized by bands of looters and killers under the "red king" Krol Rudy, but their leader, Cybula, whose daughter is take by Krol Rudy for his wife, persuades them to submit to coexistence in order to survive and plant the fields.

When he is sent on a long journey with the trusted counselor Nosek, Cybula discovers that a civilized world exist elsewhere. Changed by the experience, he brings back to the camp Ben Dosa, a Babylonian Jew, and a female slave, Kusoka. Despite Ben Dosa's attempts to teach reading and writing, the people persist in their savage customs, including human sacrifice. The lustful and insatiable Kora, whose daughter Yagoda is now Cybula's wife, leads a feminist uprising against the invaders. She crowns Cybula, with whom she is sexually obsessed, as the new king of the fields. The arrival of a blond stranger and his retinue-he is a bishop determined to convert the poles-announces the beginning of a new era.

The King of the Fields is a fictional exploration of primitive history, presenting and imaginative spectacle of human perversity versus human aspirations. Whether one reads it as a gloss on modern civilization or as an unusual historical novel, it reaffirms the author's well-earned reputation as a master storyteller. "Singer is a writer in the great tradition," according the New York Times. "A true and important literary artist lives among us."

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