Scum

Scum
Image courtesy of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Jacket Copy:

It is 1906. The death of his seventeen-year-old son, Arturo, has disrupted the life of Max Barabander in Buenos Aires, sending him back to his roots in Warsaw, while his wife stays in South America. Having attained wealth and respectability after a youth of poverty and a prison hitch in Warsaw for theft, Max revisits scenes of the past in the thieves' quarter near Krochmalna Street, finding congenial underworld company.

His fear of impotence at forty-seven drives Max to a mindless pursuit of sex. He becomes involved with five very different women, and is especially attracted to Tsirele, the beautiful daughter of a saintly rabbi. He entices her with the prospect of marriage and modernity, after falsely informing her family that he has lost his wife as well as his son. His sexual success with Reyzl Kork, mistress of a local gang-leader, leads Reyzl to scheme against Max for her own ends. The three other women--Esther, the baker's wife; Basha, a servant-girl seeking release from domestic slavery; and Theresa, a young medium who is the unwilling mistress of an aging mystic--see Max as a means of escape from their drab lives. Unable to tolerate even a few hours' loneliness, Max turns from one to the other in his frantic search for sexual salvation. Visiting his old haunts reminds him of his early religious upbringing and he begins to fear the rabbi will put a curse on him for evil behavior. As his spiritual disorder accelerates, he is finally driven to violence.

Isaac Bashevis Singer evokes the teeming life of bygone Jewish Warsaw, not only its people but its streets, customs, smells, tastes, and speech. Scum-written several years after In My Father's Court, which depicted a rabbinical island of moral order--exposes the underside of Krochmalna Street. A novel whose theme foreshadows this century's rapidly changing mores and loss of ethical values, Scum is another impressive example of the extraordinary talent of a master storyteller.

Click here to read the New York Times review.


 
   
 
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