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The Assistant

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Bernard Malamud’s second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who “wants better” for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalen Bernard Malamud’s second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who “wants better” for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalent, falls in love with Helen Bober; at the same time he begins to steal from the store. Like Malamud’s best stories, this novel unerringly evokes an immigrant world of cramped circumstances and great expectations. Malamud defined the immigrant experience in a way that has proven vital for several generations of writers.

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Bernard Malamud’s second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who “wants better” for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalen Bernard Malamud’s second novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who “wants better” for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalent, falls in love with Helen Bober; at the same time he begins to steal from the store. Like Malamud’s best stories, this novel unerringly evokes an immigrant world of cramped circumstances and great expectations. Malamud defined the immigrant experience in a way that has proven vital for several generations of writers.

30 review for The Assistant

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    The Assistant, Bernard Malamud he Assistant (1957) is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, it explores the situation of first- and second-generation Americans in the early 1950s as experienced by three main characters and the relationships between them: an aging Jewish refugee from the Russian Empire who owns and operates a failing small grocery store, a young Italian American drifter trying to overcome a bad start in life by becoming the groc The Assistant, Bernard Malamud he Assistant (1957) is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, it explores the situation of first- and second-generation Americans in the early 1950s as experienced by three main characters and the relationships between them: an aging Jewish refugee from the Russian Empire who owns and operates a failing small grocery store, a young Italian American drifter trying to overcome a bad start in life by becoming the grocer's assistant and the grocer's daughter, who becomes romantically involved with her father's assistant despite parental objections and misgivings of her own. It was adapted into a movie in 1997. عنوان: فروشنده (دستیار): نویسنده: برنارد مالامد (ملمود)؛ مترجم: شهریار بهترین؛ تهران، روزنه کار، 1378، در 308 ص، شابک: ایکس - 964672809؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 20 م رمانهای: «تعمیرکار»، با عنوانهای: «فریب‌ خوردگان بزرگ»، «قهرمانان واقعی»، «تاج نقره‌ ای»، و رمان: «دستیار»، با عنوان: «فروشنده»، آثاری هستند، که از مالامد، تا به امروز به فارسی ترجمه شده‌ اند. مجموعه داستان «کفش‌های خدمتکار» نیز، با ترجمه ی: جناب امیرمهدی حقیقت، که برگزیده‌ ای از داستان‌های کوتاه همین نویسنده است، در سال 1393 هجری خورشیدی منتشر شده است. برنارد مالامد نویسنده آمریکایی، داستان را از محله‌ های فقرزده ی بروکلین نیویورک، پی می‌گیرد. ایشان در این اثر، با شرح رازهای خصوصی، و خواسته‌ های بشریِ فرانک (قهرمان اصلی داستان)، خاطر نشان می‌کند، که انسان بدان حد توانایی دارد، که حتی با گذشته‌ ای تاریک، سرنوشت خود را دگرگون سازد؛ و آینده‌ ای امیدبخش، برای خود رقم بزند. فرانک، در کشاکش زندگی، که در سراشیب تباهی است، با اراده‌ ای استوار، بر محرومیت‌ها، و عذاب زندگی، پیروز می‌شود؛ و زندگی خویش را به عشق می‌سپارد. ا. شربیانی

  2. 4 out of 5

    [P]

    Fucking hell. This has to be a contender for the most miserable novel of all time. In fact, only Germinal by Emile Zola could legitimately wrench the title from its grasp, and that book is so monumentally bleak that there are probably Goth kids reading it backwards right now. Tellingly, both Germinal and The Assistant deal with poverty. Of course there are a lot of really terrible things that can happen to a human being, but the constant worry, shame and ill-health caused by having no money is a Fucking hell. This has to be a contender for the most miserable novel of all time. In fact, only Germinal by Emile Zola could legitimately wrench the title from its grasp, and that book is so monumentally bleak that there are probably Goth kids reading it backwards right now. Tellingly, both Germinal and The Assistant deal with poverty. Of course there are a lot of really terrible things that can happen to a human being, but the constant worry, shame and ill-health caused by having no money is a particularly potent kind of misery. I know, I’ve been there. I was raised in dire poverty. It was the kind of situation where if we ate well – my brother and I – then our mother could not, because she couldn’t afford to. 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. It’s therefore a tough book to review. Morris Bober, Helen Bober, and Frank Alpine felt extraordinarily real to me. Part of that is due to uncontrollable associations, i.e. who I am and my experiences, and part of it – the larger part – is down to Malamud, the author. 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. Yet, on the surface, the book couldn’t be less appealing. Just ignore the misery for a second, because I know some of y’all will dig that kind of thing anyway, and consider the basic plot: The Assistant is about a Jewish grocery store owner, Morris Bober, whose business is failing. 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. That’s it, pretty much. You may think I have given too much away; but I haven’t really. Frank’s involvement is clear, even, surely, to the most dim-witted reader. What is special about the book, however, is not the plot, but the characters and their relationships with each other. in a way Bober and Frank represent two types of attitude towards poverty and bad luck. 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. Frank can’t accept his lot, can’t press on stoically into the oncoming blizzard of misfortune that claws at his face; no, he writhes under the pressure. 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. He tries, but he can’t control his anguish, and so he does wrong, consistently. And always regrets it. People like Frank, people like myself, always do.* Helen Bober, Morris’ daughter, is a little bit like her father, and a little bit like Frank. 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. Helen’s story is probably the most heartbreaking of all. 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. not financially. 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. No one can save Morris’ business, no one can redeem Frank, there is no white knight able to lift Helen up on his horse and ride off with her for new, more prosperous and happier lands. 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.e. eternally suffering, but the grocer isn’t a practicing Jew, he doesn’t go to synagogue etc. 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. The first couple of pages alone throw up numerous gems, like when Morris lets a woman have some items without paying but doesn’t want to tell his wife he has done so. Malamud writes: "He found a pencilled spot on the worn counter and wrote a sum under “Drunk Woman.” The total now came to $2.03, which he never hoped to see. But Ida [his wife] would nag if she noticed a new figure so he reduced the amount to $1.61. His peace – the little he lived with – was worth forty-two cents." There are even times when Malamud manages, to my relief, to wring some comedy out of the excruciating, suffocating horror. It’s a grim, black kind of humour, sure, but it is humour nonetheless. 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. The problem is that Frank saves Helen [there’s that salvation stuff again] from being raped, only to then, seconds later, rape her himself. I really didn’t like that. 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. Having said that, maybe that was Malamud’s intention; maybe he wanted to show that a man cannot change his character, but I really don’t think so. I think he just took the misery, the life-is-a-bitch schtick a step too far. Furthermore, I am in two minds about Frank’s conversion to Judaism, although, again, I guess I kinda get it, I get that Malamud was making a point about Jewish suffering and about identifying with victims etc. In any case, these two incidents could not spoil what was, for me, a truly fucking great book, an awful gut-wrenching masterpiece. *I would like to point out that I have never done anything even close to as serious or reprehensible as the two crimes committed by Frank, one of which i consider to be absolutely unforgivable.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    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. 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 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. Another central theme is how difficult it can be to change one’s direction in life. 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. I highly recommend this book, but do NOT listen to it narrated by Richard Davidson! It is extremely difficult to appreciate the author’s lines and the book’s underlying message if you follow this narrator’s vocal interpretations. 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    There has been a bit of buzz about Malamud lately mostly due to his daughter’s recently published memoir, My Father Is a Book. 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 can’t speak to that claim. The Assistant is one of Malamud’s most acclaimed books and I have had it on my bookshelf for over a year. I can’t really remember why I bought it other than I had heard a bit about There has been a bit of buzz about Malamud lately mostly due to his daughter’s recently published memoir, My Father Is a Book. 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 can’t speak to that claim. The Assistant is one of Malamud’s most acclaimed books and I have had it on my bookshelf for over a year. I can’t really remember why I bought it other than I had heard a bit about the name and thought I would give it a shot. 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. They have a daughter who didn’t go to college and works as a secretary to help with the bills. 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. Good luck doesn’t know where they live. She never heard of them. At one point, the assistant Frank asks the grocer about Jews and suffering. The answer is, “I suffer for you,” but the real answer is “Oi, who should need a reason?” Anyway, the characters are great and fully realized and this makes the book worth while. The major drawback is the very last paragraph of the book which made me shout, “What?!” Take that for what it is worth.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    St. Francis of Assisi, the one with the birds, chose poverty. 'He gave everything away that he owned, every cent, all his clothes off his back. He enjoyed to be poor. He said poverty was a queen and he loved her like she was a beautiful woman.' Sam shook his head. 'It ain't beautiful, kiddo. To be poor is dirty work.' 'He took a fresh view of things.' Everyone is poor in The Assistant, desperately, grindingly poor, Raskolnikov poor, even Hunger poor. Morris Bober works 16-hour days in a dire grocery St. Francis of Assisi, the one with the birds, chose poverty. 'He gave everything away that he owned, every cent, all his clothes off his back. He enjoyed to be poor. He said poverty was a queen and he loved her like she was a beautiful woman.' Sam shook his head. 'It ain't beautiful, kiddo. To be poor is dirty work.' 'He took a fresh view of things.' Everyone is poor in The Assistant, desperately, grindingly poor, Raskolnikov poor, even Hunger poor. Morris Bober works 16-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. (hide spoiler)] He peeks in the window to watch Helen shower. He steals. It gets worse. (view spoiler)[He saves Helen from rape, only to rape her himself. (hide spoiler)] It's going to sound lame when I say it, but the question is who is getting assisted. 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?" - it stops you in your tracks. Frank is bad enough that you're not exactly rooting for him to have a happy ending. (view spoiler)[And Malamud doesn't exactly give him one. 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. (hide spoiler)] Although the novel has drive and a message, Malamud doesn't traffic in absolutes; it all feels real and rooted and ambiguous. He's subtler than Dostoevsky. Malamud is usually lumped in with a trio of Jewish American mid-20th century authors - him and Bellow and Roth. But Malamud has faded sharply; I'd never even heard of him until recently. Why? Maybe it's because Roth killed him, Oedipus-style. I don't know. Tell you what though: I don't love Bellow and I don't even like Roth, but I loved this book. "I want the moon so all I get is cheese," complains Frank. Sometimes cheese is enough.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joey

    TIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner The Fixer , because this book is so compelling. Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit TIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner The Fixer , because this book is so compelling. Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . 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. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. 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. Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil. 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. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. 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. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be - the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact. I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised. To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stela

    The Disciple and the Jew When Bernard Malamud explained his famous “All men are Jews” by the following: "I think it is an understandable statement and a metaphoric way of indicating how history, sooner or later treats all men." He seemed to suggest that Jewishness is not only a question of religion, but some sort of moral norm, that is, a synonym of redemption by suffering that marks mankind’s path to maturity. Indeed, The Assistant seems to focus less on cultural and religious differences and mor The Disciple and the Jew When Bernard Malamud explained his famous “All men are Jews” by the following: "I think it is an understandable statement and a metaphoric way of indicating how history, sooner or later treats all men." He seemed to suggest that Jewishness is not only a question of religion, but some sort of moral norm, that is, a synonym of redemption by suffering that marks mankind’s path to maturity. 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. For it is quite obvious that Frank Alpine’s evolution under a Jew’s guidance is incidental, that is, it is Morris Bobber the man and not the Jew who impresses and influences and guides him on a new path, especially as at the beginning he feels irritated and prejudiced against the Jews and not the man himself: That’s what they live for, Frank thought, to suffer. 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. When Morris dies, Frank’s transformation is completed, for he takes his place in more than one sense – he has learnt how to be like Morris Bober and by the final act – switching to his religion – he will become another Morris Bober, to take care of his family, to promote his values and maybe to become a role model for another disciple. Therefore, The Assistant follows two destinies: one caught in full progress – changing from an antihero to a hero and finding gradually his way after committing all the sins imaginable, the other immutable (as usually moral values are) an ironic hero, whose inflexible ethics seems inutile and embarrassing within a ruthless and dishonest society, and who will become a hero only for Frank while showing him almost unknowingly what sacrifice, honesty and ultimately love really mean, to become little by little the voice of his conscience, his inner censor: “When a man is honest he don’t worry when he sleeps. This is more important than to steal a nickel.” Frank nodded. But he continued to steal. He would stop for a few days then almost with relief go back to it. (…) …he could not explain why, from one day to another, he should begin to feel bad about snitching the bucks from Morris, but he did. 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?” “No. What’s it about?” “It’s a novel.” “I’d rather read the truth,” he said. “It is the truth.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    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. 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 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    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 100 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 100 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 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    A interesting look at different cultures in post-WWII New York. I liked this novel overall. I feel that the message is more important than the plot however. (Also the very last paragraph is somewhat... unexpected) It's an interesting character study of the Jewish shopkeeper and his Italian "assistant". I can see why it's on the TIME 100 list and I really do want to read more Malamud, I think I'll like him.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    One of the bleakest novels about Jewish grocers I've ever read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    atla

    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'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 1967. 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 1950'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'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 1967. 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 1950'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."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    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. In fact, the plan is to return to books that I loved – The Death of the Heart, Flannery O’Connor and mo 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. In fact, the plan is to return to books that I loved – The Death of the Heart, Flannery O’Connor and more. The assistant is already on that list of favorite, exceptional books. It is included on the TIME 100 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!!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Priti

    "But tell me why it is that the Jews suffer so damn much, Morris? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" This is a question raised in the book and I wanted to raise my own “why there is so much suffering in the book and why was I unable to put the damn thing away?” After I finished I looked up the internet to see the face of the man who had penned this intense and moving human story. 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? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" This is a question raised in the book and I wanted to raise my own “why there is so much suffering in the book and why was I unable to put the damn thing away?” After I finished I looked up the internet to see the face of the man who had penned this intense and moving human story. 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. To come back to the story, there are two men, one is good and honourable and the other probably not so much (probably, because I’m not sure if he is bad, to start with). 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 is about the atonement and transcendence of self, and the price paid in terms of struggles, the dying and rekindling of hopes, the agony of despair, breaks your heart and also leaves you with a bigger question, “Why?”. 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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Giulia (juliareadingdiary)

    *3.5/5 stars. 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. The story is very simple but supported by a strong character study and a precise picture of a social context (‘50s, Jewish people, New York); Mal *3.5/5 stars. 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. The story is very simple but supported by a strong character study and a precise picture of a social context (‘50s, Jewish people, New York); Malamud crafts a bleak atmosphere with weak and unlikeable characters. I enjoyed the book but wasn’t particularly in awe because of the writing, which fell too flat for me especially in the second part. 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. That being said, I’m glad I read it, I’ll certainly remember this piece of literature and I think it’s a story that can be appreciated by everyone.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben Raymond

    When I started The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, I figured it’d be extremely boring and light in plot. 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 When I started The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, I figured it’d be extremely boring and light in plot. 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. Including him being one of the people helping rob Morris’s store. 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. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or short yet detailed stories, that only build one character up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    Spoilers. The Assistant (1957) 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. The Assistant (1957) 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 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. "The Idiot. Do you know it?" "No. What's it about?" "It's a novel." "I'd rather read the truth," he said. "It is the truth."Dostoevsky's novel is another Don Quixote, an attempt to write the life of a "positively beautiful man." The Russian novelist appears again when Helen, who has been meeting Frank at the library, instructs him to read several classic novels:She wanted Frank to like novels, to enjoy in them what she did. 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. […] Crime and Punishment repelled yet fascinated him, with everybody in the joint confessing to something every time he opened his yap—to some weakness, or sickness, or crime. 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?'"—I doubt Malamud expects us to take his side. (Despite any stereotypes one has about 1950s 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." Despite the novel's similarity to scripture, religion may be more important. 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? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" "Do you like to suffer? They suffer because they are Jews." "That's what I mean, they suffer more than they have to." "If you live, you suffer. Some people suffer more, but not because they want. But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing." "What do you suffer for, Morris?" Frank said. "I suffer for you," Morris said calmly.Jewishness is, in other words, obligation, even at the expense of the self, to others. On this definition, it is not an identity or an ethnicity but an ethic, as Malamud demonstrates when he portrays almost every other Jewish character in the novel as living for comfort and pleasure and baffled by Morris's self-abnegation, even as Morris's spiritual son is the gentile orphan Frank. (Notably, Morris's own son, Ephraim, died in childhood.) Malamud's definition of Jewishness is actually compatible with his implicit praise of his own literary tradition, the novel, even when practiced by non-Jewish writers, as Cynthia Ozick explains in "Toward a New Yiddish" (1970):The novel at its nineteenth-century pinnacle was a Judaized novel: George Eliot and Dickens and Tolstoy were all touched by the Jewish covenant: they wrote of conduct and of the consequences of conduct: they were concerned with a society of will and commandment. But according to a 2008 essay called "Why Malamud Faded," Cheryl Miller explains that Philip Roth judged Malamud's moral fiction to be anathema to the Jewish-American writer's postmodern need for freedom:In Malamud’s portraits of “victimized Jewish men,” Roth sees the valorization of Jewish weakness, the fetishizing of Jewish pain. Are there no Jews, he asks, who desire vengeance, who ever act against their better natures? Are there no Jews whose “secret desire” is “really to give way and be bad—or at the least, if [they] could manage it, worse?” Compare, Roth suggests, Malamud’s 1957 novel The Assistant with Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro,” an essay published in the same year. The two works involve strikingly similar situations: the robbery and beating of an elderly shopkeeper by two masked hoodlums. For Mailer, the assailants are the heroes, bold men who have broken with convention and who “dar[e] the unknown.” In Malamud’s telling, it is the shopkeeper, the powerless Jewish grocer Morris Bober, who is a model of courage and moral integrity, while his attackers are puny cowards.More effective than argument is portraiture, and Roth's portrait in The Ghost Writer (1979) of the Malamud-like E. I. Lonoff as a man whose idealism is a delusive sublimation of all-too-human desire is brilliant considered in its own terms. But while it negates it does not cancel Malamud's vision. Human beings want and need incompatible goods simultaneously: freedom and community, lust and love, money and charity, the flesh and the spirit. In the world of literature, we can have them by roving among the divergent worldviews of writers and thus clarifying our own values. It is not for me to say who is right about Jewish identity; I only claim to know a good book when I read one, and The Assistant is better than good. I happened to read Joann Sfar's wonderful graphic novel The Rabbi's Cat (2007) concurrently with The Assistant. Sfar's titular rabbi explains to his co-titular cat: Western thought works by thesis, antithesis, synthesis, while Judaism goes thesis, antithesis, antithesis, antithesis….Again, I don't wish to make religious and cultural arguments, but it was philosophy that made extravagant claims for synthesis, while literature usually, and nowhere more than in the novel, allowed for the permanent antitheses of irony. Along these lines, The Assistant itself seems to end three times in three successive paragraphs:Frank had only six customers all morning. To keep from getting nervous he took out a book he was reading. It was the Bible and he sometimes thought there were parts of it he could have written himself. As he was reading he had this pleasant thought. He saw St. Francis come dancing out of the woods in his brown rags, a couple of scrawny birds flying around over his head. St. F. stopped in front of the grocery, and reading into the garbage can, plucked the wooden rose [Frank had given to Helen after the rape, which she threw away] out of it. He tossed it into the air and it turned into a real flower that he caught in his hand. With a bow he gave it to Helen, who had just come out of the house. "Little sister, here is your little sister the rose." From him she took it, although it was with the best wishes of Frank Alpine. One day in April Frank went to the hospital and had himself circumcised. For a couple of days he dragged himself around with a pain between his legs. The pain enraged and inspired him. After Passover he became a Jew.No doubt because I am an "Italyener" and a "goy," as the Bobers call Frank, I might have preferred to finish on the note of Frank as author of the Bible, one or both Testaments, the ambiguity itself a testament to the literary. That, I admit—and not Catholicism or Judaism—is my religion. But then we get a Catholic vision, its sensuous romanticism punctured, or severed, rather decisively by a Jewish one. Frank's penis—cursed by Helen in the aftermath of the rape ("she cried, 'Dog—uncircumcised dog!'")—gets its comeuppance as Jewishness receives its validation as the best way to be human in the world. Otherwise, though, the ending is completely open, just like that of Crime and Punishment. Comparisons to Dostoevsky are hardly misplaced: The Assistant is an intelligent, wise, and suspenseful novel, simply written but masterfully constructed; it would be a terrible shame if it ever faded.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Vonia

    The Assistant, the second novel from a Pulitzer Prize winner, was undeniably a philosophical, meaningful story with use of various themes as well as masterful use of symbolism. A well written, character focused story, yet simple to understand, read, and, most importantly, identify with. I realize that there was a meaning, a reason, for the extreme use of Jewish sentiment here. But I do have to say that it was too much for me. The many proclamations of the gentile, "Goys", the necessity of marryi The Assistant, the second novel from a Pulitzer Prize winner, was undeniably a philosophical, meaningful story with use of various themes as well as masterful use of symbolism. A well written, character focused story, yet simple to understand, read, and, most importantly, identify with. I realize that there was a meaning, a reason, for the extreme use of Jewish sentiment here. But I do have to say that it was too much for me. The many proclamations of the gentile, "Goys", the necessity of marrying within the religion, what it meant to be Jewish.... However, this was definitely overshadowed by the writing quality, insightful passages, impressively eloquent monologues, & overall themes of morality that transcended the unnecessary reminders of the Jewish characters (as if this novel could not have been as good with characters identifying with any other heritage?????.... ). The setting of the novel is extremely intimate, taking place in Bober's store for its entirety minus a few walks around town. Yet, somehow, the novel did not feel limited at all. There are a handful of characters, most of which are eloquently explored, masterfully portrayed. My main problem with The assistant was the fact that several of the characters had me very upset due to their inexplicable actions. At other intervals, I found myself having a difficult time believing a character's decisions. Then I realized that this is actually one of the author's most admirable strengths, for are our everyday lives not frustrating? Uneventful, really, on a day to day basis? Yet we still have those everyday miracles to count on? Those moments of in censored contentment to live for? Are our daily thoughts not confusing? Inexplicable even to ourselves? Do we not believe one thing, feel one thing, yet do the exact opposite? Comparatively short, I finished the novel with questions for myself, about who I am, what I believe in, whether I do enough to live as who I wish to be. There is not much more I can wish for from a good read...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    The Assistant, my first read from Malamud's oeuvre, revolves around the premise that redemption and failure are two inseparable parts of the commoner's life. This premise is conveyed through the tragic story of three main characters, Morris Bober, the owner of a grocery, Helen, his daughter, and Frank Alpine, the thug-hero of the plot and assistant of Morris. Cornered by poverty, the characters try in turn to redeem themselves from past mistakes, but life keeps letting them down. This touching p The Assistant, my first read from Malamud's oeuvre, revolves around the premise that redemption and failure are two inseparable parts of the commoner's life. This premise is conveyed through the tragic story of three main characters, Morris Bober, the owner of a grocery, Helen, his daughter, and Frank Alpine, the thug-hero of the plot and assistant of Morris. Cornered by poverty, the characters try in turn to redeem themselves from past mistakes, but life keeps letting them down. This touching plot is written in a surprisingly readable style; however, the reader is repeatedly put through agonizing feelings, as each character gets a good turn in suffering. The plot is veridical, and Malamud does an excellent work in presenting the life of a poor Jewish quarter in big-city America. Overall, a realistic account of life and its hardships, hinting towards Steinbeck, but of lower quality.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    This book focuses on the lives of two men, Morris and Frank. Morris owns a grocery store and Frank is a fresh immigrant. Frank steals food from Morris and Morris kicks him out. One day the store was robbed and Morris was knocked unconcious and instead Frank helped run the store. Business improved with Frank's help and Morris decided to hire Frank once he recover. Frank unwillingly steals a tiny portion of Morris's earnings due to emergency issues. Morris catches him and kicks him out. Frank then This book focuses on the lives of two men, Morris and Frank. Morris owns a grocery store and Frank is a fresh immigrant. Frank steals food from Morris and Morris kicks him out. One day the store was robbed and Morris was knocked unconcious and instead Frank helped run the store. Business improved with Frank's help and Morris decided to hire Frank once he recover. Frank unwillingly steals a tiny portion of Morris's earnings due to emergency issues. Morris catches him and kicks him out. Frank then meets a girl named Helen and they fall in love however he would end up raping her unabling to restrain his sexual desires. Business turns harder for Morris because there is an increase in competition, he sells his store and dies in the same day pneumonia. A changed Frank approached to Helen one day and decided to pay for her college funds and she accepted. This book was pointless. To me, it was meaningless and not worth the time reading. i would recommend this book to anyone with nothing better to do.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    I read 'The Natural' long ago and enjoyed it but found it disturbing. Malamud was a little dense for my pop-fiction palette. Last year I read his complete collected stories and discovered a virtuoso wordsmith. In short, the stories blew me away. I was excited when my girlfriend gave me 'The Assistant' but concerned that an entire novel of his intricately knitted prose might be better than I could appreciate. This is a great novel . . . A GREAT NOVEL! Not a charcter underwritten in the batch, not I read 'The Natural' long ago and enjoyed it but found it disturbing. Malamud was a little dense for my pop-fiction palette. Last year I read his complete collected stories and discovered a virtuoso wordsmith. In short, the stories blew me away. I was excited when my girlfriend gave me 'The Assistant' but concerned that an entire novel of his intricately knitted prose might be better than I could appreciate. This is a great novel . . . A GREAT NOVEL! Not a charcter underwritten in the batch, not a door opened in the plot that doesn't close. Immediately ensconced in my top ten of all time. Malamud writes with a sophistication rarely seen in modern ficition--this is craftsmanship of an extemely high order. The reader understands why each character takes the actions they do in every situation. If the bedrock for quality acting is believablity quality writing must held to a similar standard and Malamud nails it. One of the most satisfying reads I have ever had. Tremendous.

  22. 4 out of 5

    James

    Despite the simplicity of the story I find it very difficult to summarize. Which either is a function of the multi layered depth the author managed to infuse into his story or it's an indication of how weirdly dated it all is. An immigrant grocer watches his business fail bit by bit consigning his and his wife and daughters prospects to ashes, after a brutal robbery a weirdly insistent man shows up forcing his help and more on the family. Glad I read it just not sure how I feel about it at all.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lukasz Pruski

    "Pain was for poor people. [...] Everything to him who has." It is a challenge to review Bernard Malamud's The Assistant (1957), an acclaimed novel, virtually an "American classic." For instance, Time magazine included it in its list of "100 best English-language novels published since 1923," yet I have been totally unable to appreciate the novel, even if I admire the author's human-centered message. I strongly dislike the writing and the narrative style, and in fact it is difficult for me to eve "Pain was for poor people. [...] Everything to him who has." It is a challenge to review Bernard Malamud's The Assistant (1957), an acclaimed novel, virtually an "American classic." For instance, Time magazine included it in its list of "100 best English-language novels published since 1923," yet I have been totally unable to appreciate the novel, even if I admire the author's human-centered message. I strongly dislike the writing and the narrative style, and in fact it is difficult for me to even consider this novel a work of literary art. The story focuses on a Jewish family trying to make a living in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. Morris Bober, who has owned of a small grocery store for over 20 years, had come to America from tsarist Russia, having escaped pogroms and conscription into the army. The store is barely surviving: the profit is so low that Morris' daughter Helen has to help financially from her own meager salary just to keep the store afloat. When fancy delicatessen opens nearby Morris' "own poor living [is] cut in impossible half." In addition to the continual economic plight the store is held up: the "holdupniks" take hard-earned $10, and Mr. Bober is injured. Into this story of struggle for survival of an immigrant family's dreams and human dignity, comes 25-year-old Frank Alpine, who has tried and failed to achieve success in the West and is now looking for a job and a future in Brooklyn. Frank falls in love with Helen and stays to help Mr. Bober with the grocery store. The morality tale of love and redemption is superimposed over the story of economic struggle. A literary text speaks to me only if it is told in a aesthetically distinguished form. In other words, I do not much care about the story itself; all I care about is the way the story is told. While Mr. Malamud's tale is engrossing and realistic I am unable to perceive any beauty or grace in his prose. When I read novels from roughly the same period by, say, Vladimir Nabokov or Patrick White, I am awed by their magnificent prose and inspired by the sophistication of their literary art and richness of stylistic devices. Here, I feel I might as well be reading a newspaper story. What's more, I do not want the author to tell me what the characters are thinking. I do not want the author to explain the characters' motives. This is for me, a reader, to figure out. A literary work of art is created as a collaboration between the author and the reader, and it is the reader who makes sense of the story. Not only are pages and pages of detailed explanations of characters' actions unneeded, they trivialize the author's message. The novel has a wonderful two-page fragment about Mr. Bober's conversation with a "macher". Fabulous dialogue! And then, the author spoils everything by explaining what all this was supposed to mean. For Heavens' sake: the readers have brains! Of course, the above critique is relative to my understanding of the essence of literature. It might be my fault that I had to grind my teeth to finish the book despite its resonant message about human suffering and redemption. One-and-three-quarter stars.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In the middle of The Assistant, Helen, the grocer’s daughter, gives a stack of books to Frank, the titular assistant. She has checked out a number of books from the library for him: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. Frank, not an educated man, struggles through these texts, reading, “at the start, in snatches, then in bursts of strange hunger.” He read them because he wanted to impress Helen, and [a]fterward Helen suggested other novels by the same writers, so he would know In the middle of The Assistant, Helen, the grocer’s daughter, gives a stack of books to Frank, the titular assistant. She has checked out a number of books from the library for him: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. Frank, not an educated man, struggles through these texts, reading, “at the start, in snatches, then in bursts of strange hunger.” He read them because he wanted to impress Helen, and [a]fterward Helen suggested other novels by the same writers, so he would know them better, but Frank balked, saying that he wasn’t sure he had understood those he had read. ‘I’m sure you have,’ she answered, ‘if you got to know the people.’ ‘I know them,’ he muttered. But to please her he worked through two more thick books, sometimes tasting nausea on his tongue, his face strained as he read, eyes bright black, frowning, although he usually felt some relief at the end of the book. He wondered what Helen found so satisfying in all this goddamned human misery, and suspected her of knowing he had spied on her in the bathroom and was using the books to punish him for it. But then he thought that it was unlikely. Anyway, he could not get out of his thoughts how quick some people’s lives went to pot when they couldn’t make up their minds what to do when they had to do it: and he was troubled by the thought of how easy it was for a man to wreck his whole life in a single wrong act. After that they guy suffered forever, no matter what he did to make up for the wrong. This passage encapsulates the spirit of Bernard Malamud’s novel and all the strands that come together in what is really a simple story, as far as plot goes. First, it is all about the characters—if you get to know them, then you understand the novel. Through them you will see “all this goddamned human misery” and you will see suffering at the heart of the story. Malamud places his book in the tradition of Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment—these epic, “thick books,” even as he penned a short novel. What impresses me is the epic scope that is covered in such brevity. The Assistant is about Morris Bober, a Jewish grocer in his sixties whose store is struggling to produce enough money to support Morris, his wife Ida, and his daughter Helen. Helen has dreams of going to college, but she has had to work full time to help support the family. The grocery store is described by the family as a “pit” and a “trap,” a thing from which they can’t escape and that is killing them. It can’t support them and they can’t sell it. While we meet many other characters who live and work on their same Brooklyn block, the other major character of course is Frank Alpine. Frank is from the West coast and has been a drifter his entire adult life. He is of Italian descent and feels like he keeps making bad decisions, blown along by life instead of creating his own future. When we first meet Frank, he is loitering around the neighborhood and begins helping Morris drag in the heavy milk bottles in the morning. Ever since a duo of “holdupniks” beat Morris in the head with the butt of a gun and emptied the already empty register, Morris has been weak. He appreciates the help, and while he doesn’t trust the goy, he feels sorry for him when Frank tells him of his past. Morris is an honest and trusting man, believing other people are good at heart. When Morris pushes himself too quickly and must lie in bed for weeks on end, Frank inserts himself in the grocery, working for no pay in order, he says, to learn the business. Frank’s intentions are good. He was one of the two men who held Morris up and he has been wracked with guilt about it. He has returned the money he stole to the register and seems to be making amends. Frank helps grow the business and makes it more profitable, and Morris feels Frank is good luck. Because I don’t want to spoil the plot, I will leave off there and say that Frank spends the whole novel doing things he regrets and trying to make up for it. He is warned by many to stay away from the grocery, that it will suck out his life and entomb him as it did Morris. Even Helen, whom Frank has fallen for, tells him to get out while he can. But in spite of everyone shoeing him away and the Bobers outright forbidding him at points from being there, Frank will not leave, paying back a series of debts that he can never repay. Frank is a wonderfully complex character whom you admire, pity, and despise in turns. All the characters are equally rich, admirable and pitiable. At the axis of all these characters, Malamud balances a host of themes. The Assistant is about immigrants. It’s about America. It’s about post-holocaust Jews. It's about the meeting of Jewish and Christian culture. It’s about fathers and sons, generations in America. It’s about poverty. It’s about assimilation. And more than anything else, it’s about suffering and redemption. Being a Jew in this novel has nothing to do with religious practices. The Bobers are not kosher. They don’t attend a synagogue. We don’t see them observing any religious holidays. Instead, there are only fleeting conversations between Frank and Morris about what it is to be Jewish. Morris says that to be Jewish is to treat other people well, to help other people, and to suffer for them. Frank has no love for the Jews when the novel opens, and he suspect that they are a people of victims who suffer out of weakness. In the end it is Frank’s story as he grows not only to respect Morris but to take his place. He takes his place not only physically in the store but as a sufferer. At any time, Frank is free to leave town and not worry about the Bobers, but instead he stubbornly haunts them, taking their punishment and abuse because he sees his only hope as sticking it out and getting the forgiveness he needs. It is a story of redemption in which redemption is never finally achieved. The act of seeking redemption is more important than the redemption at the other end, and I had never seen that dramatized in a work of art before. The prodigal son is always welcomed with open arms in the end, isn’t he? He is restored to his proper place in the household when he humbles himself and confesses to his wrongs, isn’t he? Here the prodigal son is turned away only to insert himself as a house-servant by the force of his will. The novel does not have traditionally happy ending (I am sure you are shocked to hear) but neither is it a hopeless or depressing ending. Frank has gone through an impressive change, but as he says, “he could see out but nobody could see in.” This is one of those novels that sneaks up on you: it's a decent story, has excellent and riveting characters, has a modest plot arc. But once the final cover was closed, I have spent a lot of time trying to find all the threads running through the story and look at them together. There is a lot to chew on. Of course, if you don’t like chewing, all you need to do is what Helen advises Frank: get to know the people. That’s all it takes to enjoy The Assistant.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Helga Cohen

    The Assistant was set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It explores 1st and 2nd generation Americans in the 1950’s. Morris Bober, 60, is a Jewish refugee from Russia who owns and operates a failing small grocery store. A young Italian American, Frank Alpine, becomes an assistant to the grocer after he becomes injured. Frank wants to overcome his bad start in life but in spite of that steals from the store and becomes involved with the grocers daughter, Helen. He falls in lov The Assistant was set in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It explores 1st and 2nd generation Americans in the 1950’s. Morris Bober, 60, is a Jewish refugee from Russia who owns and operates a failing small grocery store. A young Italian American, Frank Alpine, becomes an assistant to the grocer after he becomes injured. Frank wants to overcome his bad start in life but in spite of that steals from the store and becomes involved with the grocers daughter, Helen. He falls in love with her. Morris and his wife, Ida strongly object. They have grave misgivings about Frank but he remains at the shop due to Morris’s inability to work after his injury and the belief that he is actually helping them and is needed. This was a great book depicting an immigrant world and the immigrant’s expectations of life. In Frank’s quest to win Helen, he is forced to examine his moral and spiritual beliefs. The author’s insight into human nature, and the rewards of being honest over dishonesty makes this a relevant and inspirational story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    João Reis

    The style is agreeable but the story is quite boring. Malamud draggs the story to the point of boredom, so instead of adding layers to the characters, he just makes them dull. Lacking the irony or writing capacities of other American Jewish writers such as P. Roth or Bellow, his style, though agreeable, falls short and appears to be flat, so the simple storyline is sometimes read as a cheesy melodrama. In the end, the moralistic undertones do also turn the book into something somewhat repelling, The style is agreeable but the story is quite boring. Malamud draggs the story to the point of boredom, so instead of adding layers to the characters, he just makes them dull. Lacking the irony or writing capacities of other American Jewish writers such as P. Roth or Bellow, his style, though agreeable, falls short and appears to be flat, so the simple storyline is sometimes read as a cheesy melodrama. In the end, the moralistic undertones do also turn the book into something somewhat repelling, just like Malamud wants to state that one needs to convert in order to be good.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Zack! Empire

    The best Novel I've read in a good long while. It's a really simple story, but it's so well written and well told, it just draws you in. I kept flipping pages because I just wanted to know what happen! The story is very bleck, but I think it makes it better. It's not the nice "Hollywood" ending where everyone is happy and smiling. No, it's the "Real World" ending, where everything doesn't really work out, and you don't really get what you want, you get just enough.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book was so stressful to read. Although it was very well written, it was so difficult for me to see every character being taken advantage of, or repeatedly making poor decisions. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jose

    The book, "The Assistant", by Bernard Malamud revolves around the main character Morris Bober. Bober, is a immigrant from Russia and came to the United States for a better lfe.. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Ida who he meet when he got here in New York. Bober and his wike Ida own a grocery store but, are losing clients since, a competition grocery just opened across the street. The story starts off with Bober's grocery shop getting robbed. Two men came in to the store hit Bober in The book, "The Assistant", by Bernard Malamud revolves around the main character Morris Bober. Bober, is a immigrant from Russia and came to the United States for a better lfe.. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Ida who he meet when he got here in New York. Bober and his wike Ida own a grocery store but, are losing clients since, a competition grocery just opened across the street. The story starts off with Bober's grocery shop getting robbed. Two men came in to the store hit Bober in the face and robbed the store. The next day when Bober is ready to open his store a man named, Frank helps Bober every morning. One day, Frank had enough courage to ask Bober is he would let him work for free but, Bober declined the offer and told him to leave. One day while Bober is putting in the milk in the store he slips and knocks out. That's when Frank comes along grabs an apron and starts working on the store. Bober is out for two weeks and can't work at his grocery store. Meanwhile, Frank is the one taking care of the grocery and getting many sales even more than Bober. Bober even starting thinking about paying Frank for all the work he has done. He was suprised that Frank had gotten many sale and has brought the store back up again. There is a lot of more events happening through the story like Franks getting along with Bober's daughter. They get along real good and start talking everyday. Eventually start growing feelings for eachother. Bober one days goes outside to the snow with no jacket on and three days later he dies. I would really recommend people to read this book because it is really entertaining. If you decided to read the book you would understand more since, I didn't really put many details in this review. But, overall this is a great book and you should give a chance and read it to see it you like it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ezra

    The cover attracted me to the book the most. I never heard of the author or this novel before but when I heard the story line I had to read it. This novel is about postwar in Brooklyn (similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) where a grocery owner Morris Bober goes through many trials in tryng to keep a falling grocery from finally shutting down."He [Morris:] labored long hours, was the soul of honesty - he could not escape his honesty, it was bedrock; to cheat would cause an explosion in him, yet h The cover attracted me to the book the most. I never heard of the author or this novel before but when I heard the story line I had to read it. This novel is about postwar in Brooklyn (similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) where a grocery owner Morris Bober goes through many trials in tryng to keep a falling grocery from finally shutting down."He [Morris:] labored long hours, was the soul of honesty - he could not escape his honesty, it was bedrock; to cheat would cause an explosion in him, yet he trusted cheaters - coveted nobody's nothing and always got poorer." Page 18 His wife and daughter both want him to retire, but he believes that his wife shouldnt work and that his daughter Helen should keep the job she has because this is what has gotten them through the years. A young man Frank looking for simple and honest work comes to Brooklyn and finds hiself working at the Grocery, making great profits for the ownwer, though everyone is skeptical. Little does Bernard know that his friend Frank is also his antagonist. The question was to let Frank go or have his small income Grocery go too.I loved this book alot it was one out of the three books I enjoyed this summer. I loved the way the book was written and that I couldnt tell the difference between the protagonist and just any other character. Each had a story to tell. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Frank and Helen find themeselves falling in love despite their differences and her smothering mother. "So she promised herself next time it would go the other way; first mutual love, then loving, harder maybe on the nerves, but easier in memory" (p.15) This book alll together was a great lesson to learn, we sometimes must be dishonest to others to help them out. In the end I will defintley be reading more Bernard Malamud books.

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