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VIEWS INTO THE LIFE OF A WRITER WHO WALKED WITH HIS FEET ON THE GROUND & HIS HEAD IN THE CLOUDS

Master of Dreams: A Memoir of Isaac Bashevis Singer - Dvorah Telushkin

"MASTER OF DREAMS" is a story of the 14 years the author spent working for Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Laureate and the chronicler of Yiddish life and culture in the shtetls of Eastern Europe (in his case, Poland, where he lived from 1904 until 1935, when he emigrated to the U.S.), myth, and folklore.

 

Throughout her long relationship with Singer, Telushkin had kept journals in which she related her experiences with him. They first met in 1975 in New York. Telushkin was 21 and Singer was 71. Telushkin had written a letter to Singer, offering to act as his driver to and from his creative writing class, if only he would permit her to attend the course. An agreement was struck and thus began Telushkin's apprenticeship with Singer. Through the evolution of their relationship, the reader sees Singer in all his complexity. At times, he is like a child, wide-eyed with wonder at the world, joyous and exuberant, always eager to meet with admirers of his works at lectures and speaking engagements in New York and various other places across the country anxious to see and hear him speak. Other times, Singer is petulant, paranoid, cantakerous, capricious, and at times downright hurtful to Telushkin as the following passage will attest: “… when I turned thirty and began to come of age, Isaac was unable to change along with me. I began to study Yiddish and this was taking time away from him. Although he had urged me for years to study Yiddish,… so that I could translate for him, when I actually started doing so, he reacted ambivalently. Sometimes, he praised me. Yet when Charles McGrath complimented my translations, Isaac became ill at ease, at times even hostile. For the translation of 'Matones' ('Gifts') he tried to add his name on the translation credit. I didn't say a word, but the following day I saw that he had erased it."

 

For me, who only knew of Singer previously from one of his books I saw as a child in my Mom's library and from the movie adaptation of one of his stories (i.e. "Yentl"), this was a book that gave me greater access to the real man, his writing philosophy, fears, relationships with family and friends, hopes, and personality. What's more, "Master of Dreams" is well-written, easy to read, and for the reader who has little or no knowledge of the Yiddish interspersed therein, Telushkin provides footnotes for every chapter, a glossary, and a "Note on Transcription" (which touches upon the various dialects of the Yiddish language).