Enemies, a Love Story

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Other authorsElizabeth Shub (Translator.), Aliza Shevrin (Translator.)
Book, 1972



Call number




New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972


Almost before he knows it, Herman Broder, refugee and survivor of World War II, has three wives: Yadwiga, the Polish peasant who hid him from the Nazis; Masha, his beautiful and neurotic true love; and Tamara, his first wife, miraculously returned from the dead. Astonished by each new complication, and yet resigned to a life of evasion, Herman navigates a crowded, Yiddish New York with a sense of perpetually impending doom.

User reviews

LibraryThing member William345
It's 1948 or so, soon after the birth of Israel. Herman Broder, who is Jewish, lives in New York with the shiksa who saved him from the Holocaust. This woman, Yadwiga, a Polish peasant with calloused hands, hid him in a hayloft for four years. She brought him food. She carried away his waste.
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Naturally, when the war ends and he hears the terrible news that his wife and children were gunned down in a trench, he acts upon his gratitude and marries Yadwiga. He brings her to New York City. They settle in Coney Island, home of the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and Parachute Jump, the sandy boardwalk with its many concessions, fortune tellers, tchochke shops and beach.

Herman, who has never been at ease in this world, even before the Nazis, is death saturated. Moreover, he has, as do many of his companions, something that the psychologists call survival guilt. He regrets that he did not die in the war. Why is he alive? He is extremely unhappy, anxiety-ridden, and given to delusions in which the Nazis have invaded or are about to invade New York. His response to this condition is visceral. He sleeps around as much as he can. In addition to Yadwiga, in Brooklyn, he has Masha, in the Bronx. Both Masha and her mother are survivors, too. Eventually, by the novel's end, Herman is sleeping with and married to three women. Wherever he goes he plans an escape route, just in case. His experience during the war has rendered him Godless, yet he finds work writing devotional books and sermons for a local Rabbi, his training in the Talmud being deep. Most of the time however he is going from one woman's bed to the next. Yet he refuses to have any more children. No one, he believes, should have children in a world which allows them to be gunned down in trenches. That frustrated or blocked fertility/virility is the book's central metaphor.

There's something a little old fashioned about the book which I liked. The narrative is straightforward chronology. Singer avoids the use of flashbacks for the most part. Too, the story is steeped in the old-world shtetl values in which, of course, marriage was a holy and sacred trust. So I think some of the book worked as comedy for a previous generation in a way it no longer works for most present-day readers. Herman's polygamy is meant to be seen as the ultimate sign of his despair. But even with that bit of cultural comedy neutralized, there is much to impress. Singer has a compressed style which (here translated from the Yiddish) is charmingly sustained. His spot on characterizations run very deep. Enemies: A Love Story is a superb novel even if it no longer functions in precisely the way Singer intended. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member vguy
A great story. The bleak confusion of post holocaust Jews in America. Gives plenty of harrowing detail of what actually happened, including the next stage in Stalin's Russia, but the centre of the book is a helper-skelter tragicomedy of an innerly empty survivor who ends up with 3 wives and a
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wrecked life. Page -turning pace, surprises and cliff-hangers, enough Jewich humour to make you laugh as you weep.
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
The story was that of a man who'd survived the holocaust in Poland. Believing that his wife had been killed, he eventually emigrated to New York and married a Polish woman, who'd been his mother's servant and was eventually responsible for hiding him during the Nazi occupation.

The story begins
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several years after he'd moved to New York and in those ensuing years, he's taken a mistress. His life is complicated, as he's in love with his mistress but feels beholden to his wife. To add further confusion for him, his first wife turns up alive and living in Brooklyn. Only when he is reunited with her does he realize that the idealized version of her he remembered was very much fiction. In fact, he openly despised her and left her and his two children well before the holocaust would have separated them.

The writing is tight, and funny. There are a ton of secondary characters that add humor and complications to the tale. I felt both pity and disgust with the main character, and these feelings only increased as he refused to make a choice between the women, even as they gradually learned more about his situation.

In summation : I found this book to be complex, at both times funny and incredibly moving. I would recommend it to anyone who likes challenging writing coupled with a complex storyline.
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LibraryThing member miriamparker
Not at all what I expected, it is the story of a man who moves to New York after the Holocaust, thinking that his old wife is dead and ends up with three wives. And then the story is about how he juggles them all. It is almost other-worldly although it isn't actually. It totally drew me in though,
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made me think it was like a literary description of PTSD before they had a term for it.
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LibraryThing member TTAISI-Editor
I tend to think of Singer as old -- Old World, old school, old religion. Clearly, I've been reading the wrong Singer. "Enemies" is an amazing story of post-Holocaust life, love, and psychopathology in New York. It's sparingly written -- detailed, but only as necessary -- and conveys the oddities of
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a multi-lingual environment very effectively. More importantly, it is in its way a thoroughly modern story of a man and his wives, and the challenges of belief after the near-total destruction of European Jewry. One of the best and most moving books I have read in a long time, with an unpredictable ending. Highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member ivanfranko
A riveting story which lays bare the devastating effects on the psyches of survivors of persecuted people, in this case Holocaust Jews.
LibraryThing member melsmarsh
A very complicated love triangle. That is about it. 3 women and a man. Oy! Otherwise somewhat similar to "The Pawn Broker" (Holocaust survivor with flashbacks) if you have seen that.
LibraryThing member suesbooks
This is at least the second time if not the third that i've read this book, and this time i was very disappointed. the characters are so simplistic and not at all credible. they may be metaphors for singer's feelings toward G-d or judaism, but they were also uninteresting. the main survivors spoke
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identically, unbelievably, and tediously. i found his portrayal of survivors offensive.
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LibraryThing member grheault
Herman before: retreating mensch, vaguely overwhelmed, lies for love. Herman after: same retreating mensch, vaguely overwhelmed, lies for love, but now he's in a new world, among refugees, anxious about returning nazis, scouting bell towers, caves, cellars just in case, just in case "they" come
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back. And they do. Herman dissembles, juggles women, his multiple selves, can't say no, and piles up the obligations, the little lies, and tries to keep going as life takes him for a ride. Comic characters, dark survivalist humor, a hero you can love, it's a movie in a book.
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Original language


Original publication date



0374148309 / 9780374148300
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