A lot of the time I was unhappy, and scared. Everything was strained. I lived constantly on the look out for the next disaster and there was always the heavy, sour smell of hopelessness in the air.
So I know how the characters in this novel feel. In fact, of all the books I have read this one perhaps hit me the hardest. I kind of ached, due to force of that blow, all the way through. Part of that is due to uncontrollable associations, i. The Assistant is brilliant. I would hope I would think it brilliant even if I had grown up in a mansion somewhere, with millionaire parents. One day he is robbed at gun point. One of the assailants, Frank Alpine, to some extent due to a guilty conscience, returns to the store and starts working there.
What is special about the book, however, is not the plot, but the characters and their relationships with each other. I have seen these types myself, have been one of them. There is the Bober-type, who suffers almost heroically. He takes and takes, everything. Willingly, albeit not happily. Frank is a different sort; he is my sort. He has to change his luck, has to force a change. And this makes him skittish and restless, which leads to poor judgement. Frank is wild, he is in agony; and yet he wishes he were the Bober-type, he wishes he could accept his fate.
And always regrets it. People like Frank, people like myself, always do. She too is restless, she too wants to change her life or change her fate. Unlike Frank, however, she is not wild, she has strong values; she wants to make a change by educating herself. The Assistant, I imagine it is quite clear by now, is a book about suffering, but it is also, perhaps more interestingly, about making amends, about forgiveness and redemption. Helen, Frank and Morris: these three characters need each other, if not literally, then symbolically.
Morris sees Frank as his saviour, because when Frank starts working at the store the takings improve. Helen sees him as her saviour also, but not in the same way. She believes that his love will save her, that by loving him and helping him to better himself she will free herself from her awful situation. Frank, on the other hand, looks first to Morris, then to Helen, as a saviour; by helping the grocer he thinks he can prove that he is a good man and not a low-down hoodlum, by loving Helen that he is, in fact, capable of love and capable of a genuine, nice and normal relationship.
This complex web of relations, and hopes and dreams, is almost comical, because none of them have any basis in reality. All of this talk about salvation and redemption might give the impression that The Assistant is a religious text. It is, in a way. But not overtly, never in a heavy-handed manner. Malamud certainly has something to say about Jewishness, but not necessarily Judaism.
Frank is openly, in the beginning, an anti-semite, but his dislike of Jews is racially-motivated, rather than born out of religious conflict. Malamud, to my mind, does seem to be suggesting that Morris is a typical Jew, i. Redemption and salvation are religious concepts, but they are human issues. The Assistant is an unrelentingly human book. In terms of the prose, it is not flashy or eye-catching, but it is wonderful. His peace — the little he lived with — was worth forty-two cents.
Despite all of my gushing The Assistant is not a perfect book, there are one or two issues or, if you like, boom moments. To speak about them, however, would mean revealing important details, so if you wish to avoid serious spoilers then stop reading here. There is a rape scene in the book, which involves Helen and Frank. I hate rape scenes in anything, but it is not gratuitous. It made no sense. Malamud was setting Frank up to be flawed, yes, but to rape someone you have saved from being raped is monstrous; it is difficult to feel anything but repugnance for Frank after that, when one felt at least some sympathy for him before.
I think he just took the misery, the life-is-a-bitch schtick a step too far. In any case, these two incidents could not spoil what was, for me, a truly fucking great book, an awful gut-wrenching masterpiece. View all 6 comments. Nov 18, Chrissie rated it really liked it Shelves: religion , hf , usa , read , philo-psychol , audible-uk , classics.
The power of the story pulled me in. The simplicity of the lines, the straightforward talk and the Jewish manner of speaking all weave together to produce a piece that is cohesive in tone and message. The story follows a Jewish grocer's family in Brooklyn after the war. The daily grind of managing is vividly portrayed. To better one's self can feel insurmountable.
If you have morals and what you should do further weigh you down, what choices do you make? What is success? What makes you a Jew? Is The power of the story pulled me in. Is it eating kosher food? Is it observance of holidays or is it the number of times you go to the synagogue? These are the questions the book poses. Principles and morals rather than religious doctrines and rules come to the fore. A mistake made earlier in one's life can easily become a pattern.
What makes us change for the better? The Jewish community is well drawn. Life is gritty. It is the ability of the author to show different characters' answers to the above questions in a realistic fashion through their behavior and speech that I think make this book special. The plot? Well a lot happens, and I like the ending.
He exaggerates to such an extent that you want to laugh when you should be sobbing or thinking. He pauses in the wrong places. He distorts what is written. If you are not able to distinguish between what is coming through your ears from the written lines in the book do NOT listen to the audio! What do I do with such terrible narrations? I repeat the lines in my head in an effort to erase what is coming through my ears. View all 18 comments. May 31, Michael rated it liked it. Malamud is most often described as the under appreciated, overlooked middle child between the great Jewish-American novelists of the last century, Bellow and Roth.
I thought this was a good book mostly because of how well Malamud captures the cultural nuances of New York Jews. The story is of the Bober Family who run a small run-down grocery in a bad neighborhood in what I think is Brooklyn or Queens. A young hobo type named Frank enters the picture and coaxes Mr. Bober into letting him work at the grocery for next to nothing. Basically, this is a story about miserable people who continually fail. Every opportunity is lost. She never heard of them. At one point, the assistant Frank asks the grocer about Jews and suffering. View 1 comment.
Jan 16, Alex rated it it was amazing Shelves: Francis of Assisi, the one with the birds, chose poverty. He enjoyed to be poor. He said poverty was a queen and he loved her like she was a beautiful woman. To be poor is dirty work. Morris Bober works hour days in a dire grocery St. Morris Bober works hour days in a dire grocery, barely managing to feed himself and his wife Ida and daughter Helen.
An assistant arrives. The assistant is Frank Alpine, who is not good. It's not a surprise when you learn that he was view spoiler [involved in the robbery of the grocery that begins the novel. He steals. It gets worse. Frank saves Morris's grocery; his energy, charisma and non-Jewishness bring in fresh business, and when Morris is incapacitated Frank saves him from disaster.
But Frank wants to be good, although by all evidence he is congenitally bad, and it's Morris's example that he follows - Morris, who insists on giving food away to those even marginally poorer than himself. It comes off as a fable. The Assistant is one of those perfectly constructed, tight novels, every page leading directly to the next. Malamud writes clearly and unpretentiously, so when he flashes out with an occasional burst of poetry - "Who was he making into a wife out of snowy moonlight? Frank is bad enough that you're not exactly rooting for him to have a happy ending.
He hints at it. But in a twist ending that works once it arrives, Frank gets himself circumcised and Jewishized to end the novel; Malamud leaves the rest up in the air. Rape is such an enormous crime that its presence bends a novel; once rape appears, you might feel that the novel is about rape. Malamud chooses a massive crime because, like Dostoevsky, he's arguing that redemption is always possible.
Your call whether you're comfortable with that or not. He's subtler than Dostoevsky. Malamud is usually lumped in with a trio of Jewish American midth century authors - him and Bellow and Roth. But Malamud has faded sharply; I'd never even heard of him until recently. Maybe it's because Roth killed him, Oedipus-style. I don't know. Sometimes cheese is enough. View 2 comments. Feb 09, Joey rated it liked it Shelves: fictions. He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they family will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him.
In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.
He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not.
Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised. Feb 24, Stela rated it liked it Recommended to Stela by: Fewlas. Shelves: neo-modernism , reviews. Indeed, The Assistant seems to focus less on cultural and religious differences and more on the ethic ones, its principal theme being the conversion of the self by the power of example.
And the one that has got the biggest pain in the gut and can hold onto it the longest without running to the toilet is the best Jew. No wonder they got on his nerves. Even his final gesture, the conversion to Judaism comes more from a desire to honour his spiritual teacher than from a religious belief. Had Morris been, say, Buddhist, he would have been expected to become one, too. This is more important than to steal a nickel. But he continued to steal. He would stop for a few days then almost with relief go back to it. Overall, an interesting enough psychological novel, well written but a little dull at least for me , whose greatest interest lies exactly in its background — the encounter of two cultures, of two ways of life.
And in little dialogues like this one : "The Idiot. Do you know it? What a gem. A gem from Heaven. I ordered Mr. Malamud's "The Assistant" by accident and after reading it it is undeniably one mistake I am truly happy I made. It is a lyrical portrait of a struggling Jewish family in Brooklyn that owns a grocery store with a cast of characters that are so real, compassionate, and humbling that at times it filled my eyes with tears.
Morris Bober, the father, a grocer, and conscience of this amazing novel only wants what is best for his family and in so doing offer What a gem. Morris Bober, the father, a grocer, and conscience of this amazing novel only wants what is best for his family and in so doing offers insights into human nature, the act of forgiveness and the rewards of being honest and hard working even when it doesn't translate into monetary success.
I love this book, simply loved this book. Jan 18, Jennifer rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. Tired of dragging myself around my small local library for hours, not finding what I wanted to read, I decided to challenge myself by reading a number of the Best books by Time, Modern Library, etc. Some books ahem, Ulysses - sorry Bloomians, but the man was just showing off have been torture, but with some it has been like discovering pearls in an oyster.
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud is one of those pearls. Summaries I have seen say it is a book about a Jewish grocer in the fifties and Tired of dragging myself around my small local library for hours, not finding what I wanted to read, I decided to challenge myself by reading a number of the Best books by Time, Modern Library, etc. Summaries I have seen say it is a book about a Jewish grocer in the fifties and the assistant who steals from him. That is like saying Moby Dick is just about a whale. It is a fascinating account of a man who has seen his life go by in a little dark store but who still remembered the fields and open sky of his Russian boyhood.
It is about a man who shows that redemption is possible and not just for novels.
It is brought to us with writing that is so clear, I felt that I was standing there watching them. I finished with a catch in my breath and my hand on my heart. I highly recommend this novel to all readers of true literature. Nov 06, Barry Pierce rated it liked it Shelves: read-in , 20th-century. I liked this novel overall. I feel that the message is more important than the plot however. Also the very last paragraph is somewhat Sep 12, Lobstergirl rated it liked it Shelves: fiction. One of the bleakest novels about Jewish grocers I've ever read.
Jan 09, atla rated it it was ok Shelves: 50bookchallenge , library , novels. I've only today learned that it was actually Malamud's later novel, The Fixer , that won the award as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in C'est la vie. I wish I could decide how I feel about this novel, which portrays the lives of first and second generation Jewish immigrants in America in the 's. I found Malamud's writing style easy to adjust to and pleasa When I picked this up, I had somehow gotten under the impression that The Assistant won the National Book Award in the 50's.
I found Malamud's writing style easy to adjust to and pleasant. It was simple, but tight. I appreciated that the character's, especially Frank, were portrayed in a way that made them hard to like or dislike, yet easy to identify with. Frank Alpine, the "goyim," a screw-up. It is almost like there are two Franks: the Frank that he is, and the Frank that he longs to be. Isn't this true of everyone? Often, even as he gives into temptation, he recognizes that he is falling back into old habit's, he is being Frank: the young man who held up a Jewish grocery; Frank: the voyeur; Frank: the petty thief rather than the patient, rational man that he can be with a little effort.
He struggles to hide his lack of restraint, his impulsiveness, and to overcome it. But often, in failing, he brings his world and the people around down with him. I found the ending a little close-minded, almost as if Malamud is saying "To be good, you must be Jewish. Feb 22, Realini rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , read-again.
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud Exhilarating- 10 out of 10!! In a sentence- this book is exactly what I love. It is a classic novel, at least for this reader. Reading it was such an exquisite pleasure that I stopped when I realized how rare this experience is and left it aside. Because I find it hard to discover new, meaningful and acclaimed books that satisfy and agree with me, I read them slowly. The assistant is already on that list of favorite, exceptional books.
It is included on the TIME best books of the last century and for a very good reason. Frank seems to be the main character of the book, if we look at the title, for he becomes the help in a grocery store owned by Morris. The main themes I contemplate now are love and being Jewish. Having said that, a change would be in order, for the discussion about being a Jew is more like a meditation on being human. Even more- being a good human. Morris is not going to the synagogue. He did not attend a service in many years and yet he is a good Jew and human being.
Yes, he was weak at some points in his life and he has let others take advantage, in the process compromising the welfare of his family. But he was a merit finder not a fault finder, even if a pessimistic, sad, gloomy and unhappy man for most of his life. His daughter Helen is the heroine of the story and the woman that Frank Alpine loves, for most of the time with little hope. This is another aspect of the book that I loved- the surprises that kept coming up, whenever I thought the trend is settled.
When I was thinking Frank and Helene will carry on in a fairy tale fashion, living happily for ever after, and a change took place. It is not a mystery or a crime story, the action taking place in and around a modest, even poor grocery store. And yet what satisfaction, what marvels did occur, if not in the store, in the minds of the protagonists that dance in a weird love and hate relationship.
Frank did not like the Jews, if not worse. But love, understanding and communication, albeit a difficult process for a long time changed that perspective until we reach a shocking end. Frank even takes place in a holdup against the Jewish store, even if the role he plays is a minor, reluctant one. After that, he repents and pays for his sins and —unfortunately repeated — mistakes.
Helen gives Frank Crime and Punishment, together with Madame Bovary and a few other books- reading being a passion that they share and brings them together. This is not Crime and Punishment in terms of the suffering inside, but the sadness and ordeal that major and minor characters go through is terrible. An excellent, fantastic book!! It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?
In one of his older pics he looked a little like Mahatma Gandhi, with a little more hair of course "But tell me why it is that the Jews suffer so damn much, Morris? In one of his older pics he looked a little like Mahatma Gandhi, with a little more hair of course, and it made a weird kind of sense, of him writing this book. Maybe, with their racial history Jews have to have internalized suffering, to express it without raging at the iniquities of life.
Morris Bober is a down on his luck shopkeeper, with his failing shop and dwindling finances; his troubles are compounded when he is robbed by masked intruders. Bober is really in dire straits, stricken as he is by poverty and poor health, but he is also and in spite of it, a good man. He takes on an assistant, another down on his luck guy. Thereon the whole complicated web of deceit, guilt, and grief starts to build.
I have still not been able to sort my feelings over the book, but melancholy seems to be at the top with sneaky glimpses of admiration and love?? And though I was a bit disconcerted with the end, I had to read the last couple of pages again, just to make sure there wasn't anything I missed, but I was also immensely relieved that worse didn't happen. But the fact remains that once started, I was unable to put the book down, even smothered with the sadness of it all.
It tells also of the generosity of spirit which remains unquenched amidst the squalor and dejection, and is probably the only way out, every single time. But there is no fanciful and florid prose, to delineate all of that. Instead, in simple, yet precise prose every thought and feeling is nuanced with complete matter-of-factness and clarity. Which is probably why the sadness it generates is so overwhelming, because it is so unexpected, lulled as one is by the understated prose.
Reading Bernard Malamud was an experience I would definitely repeat. Considered to be a classic of XX century American literature, The Assistant centers around Morris Bober, an honest and miserable jewish shopkeeper that struggles to keep his grocery store open and to provide to his family. After being robbed and hit in the head, Morris meets Frank Alpine, who offers to work for free and help with his shop. Also, the narrator switches from one point of view to the other very freely and some parts of the story lacked insight from certain characters in my opinion.
Mar 05, Ben Raymond rated it really liked it. A book which details were the meat and potatoes while the plot itself and the story it tells are the sides. I found this to be false when Frank Alpine, an Italian who rolled into the store helping the storekeeper, Morris, because of an injury he got during an armed robbery. Frank started off polite helping Morris. Throughout the book, you learn of his sad beginning, and how that influenced him to make horrible decisions such as armed robberies.
Overall I thought the book was very entertaining and went into the depth it needed to tell the story as it was. It really gives you an idea how things have changed since the 50s, and you can see how discrimination was still a thing, and how it was stopped.
It gets worse. Trivia About The Assistant. Just when she realizes she loves Frank and is committed to their relationship, Morris catches his assistant in the act of stealing. Frank first had the idea he must be a Jew and was surprised when he found he wasn't. In some cases, their condescension is obvious chastising her for accidentally ordering turkey, instead of chicken, sandwiches ; in others, it is disguised as charity, as when they both crowd over her chair, uninvited, to help her draft an apology email to her boss for some imagined infraction.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or short yet detailed stories, that only build one character up. Jan 04, John Pistelli rated it it was amazing Shelves: fiction , twentieth-century. The Assistant is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Frank Alpine, its eponymous anti-hero, becomes a clerk in the failing Brooklyn grocery store of Morris Bober after Bober is robbed and assaulted. The Italian-American orphan and drifter Alpine slowly intricates himself into the ways and values of the Jewish Bober family; he comes to admire the old man's goodness and persistence and to fall in love with Helen, the Bobers' smart, ambitious daughter.
Both bad luck and moral weakness a Spoilers. Both bad luck and moral weakness afflict this ensemble, however. Morris's masochism and ineffectuality slowly doom his business, even as his daughter dithers over her romantic and educational possibilities; more seriously, Frank Alpine's drive to behave well and improve himself is constantly detoured by his capacity for dishonesty, theft, and even rape.
The slim, stark novel sometimes reads like one of Hardy's or Dreiser's naturalist tragedies as the characters' innate and determined doom closes around them. But the three main characters—Morris, Helen, and Frank—wrestle with moral questions, invoke Catholic and Jewish metaphysics, and struggle to make themselves better people by aiming at otherworldly ideals; The Assistant therefore transcends naturalism. Despite its economical, persuasive, and even gritty realism, Malamud's novel has the air of parable. The Assistant is very much of its time and thus easy to contextualize narrowly: as a sociological phenomenon, the book represents the midcentury success of Jewish writers in American literature, while its protagonist Alpine is an exemplary postwar character, an ambiguous, delinquent seeker of existential authenticity and identity.
Its religious and parabolic dimensions, though, also make it seem universal and out of time. For Malamud, he is doing no more than following in the high tradition of the novel. The novel, in fact, is a motif and theme in this novel. When we are first introduced to Helen Bober, she is reading, Don Quixote , proverbially the first novel, precisely because its hero is both undone and redeemed by his idealism.
Later on, when Frank encounters her, they have this exchange: He asked her what book she was reading. What's it about? So she checked out Madame Bovary , Anna Karenina , and Crime and Punishment , all by writers he had barely heard of, but they were very satisfying books, she said. He noticed she handled each yellow-paged volume as though she were holding in her respectful hands the works of God Almighty. Raskolnikov, the student, gave him a pain, with all his miseries.
Frank first had the idea he must be a Jew and was surprised when he found he wasn't. It is remarkable not only that Malamud associates novels with the Bible "the works of God Almighty" but that Frank, and behind him his author, associates the arch-anti-Semite Dostoevsky with a sense of Jewishness. Something similar happens when Frank gives Helen a beautiful leather-bound collection of Shakespeare, the only gift of his that she keeps a wooden rose she discards is one of the novel's other motifs.
Malamud's recruitment of the anti-Semitic writers Shakespeare and Dostoevsky to his own moral and artistic cause should be a model to the contemporary writer and thinker; as it is a productive rather than reductive, expansive rather than restrictive, humane rather than brutal, and open- rather than close-minded gesture, this widening of compass and consciousness would do much to repair the damage that sour self-righteous puritanism has done to cultural liberalism in the last decade.
At the same time, literature is not necessarily enough for this novel. When Frank upbraids Helen for not forgiving him for raping her in literary terms—"'Those books you once gave me to read,' he said, 'did you understand them yourself? Despite any stereotypes one has about s literary culture, the rape is not treated as anything less than totally reprehensible in the novel, though Frank is depicted as redeemable. What means more to Frank than Raskolnikov are his memories of tales about St. Francis he heard from a priest in an orphanage.
Frank defends their truth to a skeptical interlocutor almost as Helen had defended Dostoevsky to him, with the claim that the "stories" about the saint indicate a "fresh view of things. The novel's horizon is not Catholicism or religion in general, though, but a certain vision—not of Judaism, but Jewishness. This, which has proved controversial among Malamud's readers, comes out in Frank's discussions with Morris: "But tell me why is it that Jews suffer so damn much, Morris? They suffer because they are Jews. Some people suffer more, but not because they want.
They are simultaneously generous and intimidating, their mere physicality a kind of looming, unspoken threat. The film is a collection of small moments like this. There is no rape, no overtly outrageous incident. It is discrimination by a thousand paper cuts. But there are little things that you cling to, tiny reasons to get up out of bed and go back the next day.
These [complimentary] emails, or a supportive colleague, or someone just noticing you at all. It is yet another example of a system that should exist to protect women serving only to reinforce structural abuses. So much of the MeToo coverage was like, Oh, these few bad apples — we get rid of Harvey Weinstein and everything will be fixed. But the problem is bigger than that. Newswire Powered by. Close the menu. Rolling Stone.
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