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Gimpel the Fool
By Isaac Bashevis Singer
Read by Theodore Bikel

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Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories

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Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories
By Isaac Bashevis Singer
Read by Theodore Bikel
The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., (1986)
An unabridged audio recording on 2 cassettes
ISBN: 0-88690-129-4
Genre: Literature, Jewish Folktales

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 24, 2001

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the beloved Yiddish writer, has long been known for his marvelously insightful tales. In 1978 his gift was publically acknowledged when he won the Nobel Prize for literature. In this unabridged recording of Gimpel the Fool, in English translation, are four of Singer's best loved short stories, Gimpel the Fool, Esther Kreindel the Second, The Spinoza of Market Street and The Black Wedding. These humorous tales are read by Theodore Bikel, who is perhaps best known for his role as Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. Bikel brings these stories to life with his vivacious, old-world, Eastern European style sounding voice, and the natural rhythm of a born storyteller. Both the stories, and the reading are excellent in their own right, but together, they are stupendous!

Gimpel the Fool is a mischievous story about Gimpel, the fool, who is the butt of everyone's jokes. Gimpel, an orphan, who was raised in a 19th century Jewish ghetto in Poland. With self-effacing humor, and gut wrenching insights, Singer allows us to follow Gimpel through his life, from his childhood to his marriage which lasted twenty years and produced six children, as well as a telling glimpse of Gimpel in his old age. This story explains how Gimpel was able to handle the taunts and jabs that he suffered throughout his life, simply by showing us how Gimpel lived. How does Gimpel survive? The answer is simple. He is a good man with a complete faith in God. As Singer has a Rabbi state in the story, "...it is written that a good man lives by his faith" Rather than being a fool, Gimpel is holy man who simply cannot comprehend that anyone would ever lie to him. By being, at his very core, a decent, upright individual, Gimpel has a unique power - he can make other people good, as well. Even when tempted to seek revenge upon those that tormented him, his ultimate faith in God sustained him.

Esther Kreindel the Second is a supernatural tale, one filled with ghosts and possessions. Esther Kreindel comes back from the dead because her husband will not stop mourning her. She takes over the body of a young girl, Simhala. Esther wants her to go, and take her place with Esther's husband, Reb Tzorik. When her body is possessed, Simhala's body matures to match her new status as a wife and mother. This is a telling story about free will. Is Simhala her own person, or is she controlled by Esther?

The Spinoza of Market Street is a hilarious story about Dr. Fischelson, a sickly man who is an astute scholar of the Ethics of Spinoza. Sick and isolated, Fischelson becomes disillusioned with modern Jewry. He is seduced by a spinster, Black Dobbe, an ugly woman who resembled, in his mind, a witch. In time, Dobbe teaches him the true meaning of love and helps him to understand his relationship with God.

The Black Wedding is a traditional horror story, filled with demons and unspeakable evil. Rev Naphthali is a Hasidic Rabbi who likes to study Kabbala, and who wages a continuing battle against the dark forces. His daughter, Hindla is constantly being assaulted by vindictive demons. When her father dies, he tells her that she must keep silent in order to be safe. When she is married to a divorcee with five children, she instantly recognizes him as a demon, but can say nothing without breaking her vow to stay silent. Will her silence save her?

These four stories offer a fabulous glimpse into Jewish life and culture, as it existed in Poland before the community was pulverized by the Nazi's. These stories are rich with old world charm, Jewish religious traditions, and good, old-fashioned story telling. These stories are well-written and engrossing, as one would expect from a Nobel laureate. And more important, these stories have universal appeal, and, from the moment they were first penned, were destined to become classics. They are a must for all readers, both young and old.


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