Bernard Malamud Biography
(1914–86), The Natural, The Assistant, A New Life, The Fixer, Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition
American novelist, born in Brooklyn to first-generation Russian immigrant parents, educated at Columbia University. The recipient of many writing awards and honours, as a popular Jewish-American writer he has contributed influentially to the ethnic consciousness of American literature. His first novel, The Natural (1952), adapted as a film in 1984, parodies both the pretensions of those who see baseball as a metaphor for heroism and the idea of the existence of the ‘great American novel’. His second, The Assistant (1957), a more serious work, explores the collision between emotional bonds and cultural barriers in its depiction of the tensions and connections between the Jewish and Italian communities in New York. Thereafter, Malamud's work vacillates between these two poles of satire and serious moral commentary. His next novel, A New Life (1961), charts the life of Sam Levin from loser to father, a development of the responsibility of the individual but also of disillusionment. Malamud's best-known novel, The Fixer (1967, Pulitzer Prize), was followed by Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition (1969), a picaresque novel which examines the innocent American abroad as Fidelman travels through Italy, and The Tenants (1971), an experimental novel which looks at the complex relationships between blacks and Jews in mid-twentieth-century America. His final novels were Dubin's Lives (1979), about a middle-aged biographer torn between passion and honesty, and God's Grace (1982), about a sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Many of the themes of satire, seriousness, and examination of the qualities and trials of being Jewish in the USA are concentrated into his collections of short stories which include The Magic Barrel (1958), Idiots First (1963), and Rembrandt's Hat (1973). Here, as in the rest of his work, the continuing concern with the strains between cultural and ethnic specificity, and with the conception of the USA as a ‘melting pot’, is interrogated at length.