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Job, the story of a simple man (Anglais)
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After his initial bewilderment in America (brilliantly described), Mendel settles down, and life appears good to him and to his family in the United States; and he even has good news from and about his sons in Russia. In the evening of his days (he was an old 59) he was, for the first time in his life, free from worry.
But this is a book about a twentieth century Job, and the blessing that Mendel thought God had bestowed on him turned into new worries as the war broke out; and then a series of disasters pour down upon the old man's family until he is feels left utterly alone. And the formerly pious old man cursed God and was about to consign his prayer shawl, his phylacteries and his prayer book to the flames. His Jewish friends, though they had been increasingly secularized in America, still had remnants of their faith and argued with Mendel, re-enacting and also citing the story in the book of Job, telling him that God was testing him. And passionately did Mendel turn their comments aside. He was present during prayer meetings, but refused to join in. He took no interest in anything that went on around him. The news of the Russian Revolution left him indifferent. The war comes to an end.
Then, when he is right down, his depression lifts somewhat when he hears a particular song on a gramophone record brought out of Russia (singing plays a significant role in the life of Mendel Singer), and this comes shortly before the "miracle" we must expect in a story inspired by the Book of Job. We might guess what it is sometime before it is revealed; but the actual scene of revelation is one of the most moving pieces of writing I have ever read.
Mendel's faith is restored. The last chapter leaves him - and us - hoping for further miracles.
Apart from this being a wonderful and heart-felt story, there is the sheer beauty of Roth's writing. As in his other books, he is superb at painting a word picture of countryside, weather, bird-song and other sounds; and here he also paints an unforgettable picture of New York, especially as perceived by a country dweller.
I rejoice! I shout with happiness. I have found an adult novel with a glorious ending! Joseph Roth took a 180 turn from "The Holy Drinker," a despairing and depressing book, the first Roth I read several months ago (and reviewed), with this, a work of wonder, "Job: The Story of a Simple Man."
Getting to the wonder, the joy, the miracle was an uneasy slug through one bad circumstance after the other, until about mid-way through the novel. What typically encapsulates man is his inability to act in a given circumstance, usually by birth. As in life, fictional characters are born, slug through life, and die--all in one setting, as if there is no world beyond.
What sets "Job" apart and made this reader literally sit up and take notice was the family's move to America. What courage! What imagination to consider a world beyond a tiny Russian village! How unimaginable within context of fiction. I thought, Roth as creator is planning big here. If Mendel Singer is Job and suffers major losses as Job, how is he going to America? To what end?
Let me begin at the beginning. Mendel has a wife, Deborah. They have had three children, all pretty much grown when little Menuchim is born. If the word "freak" weren't probably politically incorrect, I would use it to describe the deformed, sickly, pitiful child. However, both Deborah and Mendel love him. When one of their sons immigrates to America to avoid being drafted into the Russian army (and sure death), he succeeds and sends for his family. Mendel makes arrangements for Menuchim to stay behind.
So, how does Mendel's story compare with Job's. One son goes into the army--lost. One son goes to America--lost. His daughter sleeps with Cossacks--lost. The youngest is deformed--lost. However, Deborah takes the child to a regional rabbi who pronounces a curious prophecy over Menuchim.
In America--and this is the last of the story I will relate--the daughter goes insane, one son is killed, one son is missing, and one son's fate is unknown. Deborah literally drops dead. Mendel is so upset with God that he puts away his bag of prayer materials and swears off God. His friends come and have a biblical discussion akin to the Job story in the Bible.
I was never convinced that Mendel suffered any more than any other human being. Oh sure, there are some humans who seem to lead charmed lives, but most of us live lives comprised of both gains and losses. However, Mendel is the subject of this parable, so Mendel I will consider. Although God does not restore all of Mendel's losses as He does for the biblical Job, the miracle He works is not to be missed. It's a mighty miracle which will cause the reader to stop and reflect: Can we explain the ways of God? Roth surely presents the miracle-wielding side of God, as if to say: When God performs a miracle such as this, His ways are clearly revealed, or at the very least, a compassionate side.