The Fixer

by Bernard Malamud

Book, 1966



Call number




New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux [1966], 335 pages


A classic that won Malamud both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award"The Fixer" (1966) is Bernard Malamud's best-known and most acclaimed novel -- one that makes manifest his roots in Russian fiction, especially that of Isaac Babel.Set in Kiev in 1911 during a period of heightened anti-Semitism, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman blamed for the brutal murder of a young Russian boy. Bok leaves his village to try his luck in Kiev, and after denying his Jewish identity, finds himself working for a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds Society. When the boy is found nearly drained of blood in a cave, the Black Hundreds accuse the Jews of ritual murder. Arrested and imprisoned, Bok refuses to confess to a crime that he did not commit.… (more)

Media reviews

I don’t recommend you read this book if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, if you don’t want to feel like an outcast yourself. On the other hand, for those of you who enjoy complex characters for whom the intellectual, the spiritual, and the political intertwine, have at it. But know that
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you are risking the competition of feeling.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member chosler
Based on the historical imprisonment of Menahem Mendel Beilis, an innocent Jew whose 1913 trial in Tsarist Russia created an international uproar, Malamud's novel focuses more on the personal experience of Yakov Bok. Fed up with his life in the Pale of Settlement as an abandoned husband and
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unprofitable handyman (fixer), Bok ventures to Kiev to turn his fortunes around. From this point his life becomes like that of the biblical Job - passing for a Gentile, he is hired to supervise a brick factory, and is doing well until a Christian child is murdered, and he is blamed for the murder (and numerous other charges) in a revival of the Blood Libel against Jews. The majority of the book chronicles Bok's transformation in prison from an unforgiving, non-religious, apolitical man "of a little education" to a gradual political awakening and a rediscovery of his humanity. Bok's horrendous experiences of torture and mental abuse at the hands of his prisoners lead him to eventually forgive his unfaithful wife and to view his plight as that of all Jews in Russia, forcing him to refuse to take the Ts's easy way out and condemn his fellows in the process. The book ends before the trial has begun, but closes with Bok having achieved peace in his political convictions and faith in the potential humanity of Jews and Christians alike.
Malamud employs a lyrical, folk-based prose in description of Bok's thoughts and words, mixed with Jewish proverbs, biblical allusions, and the simple, often profane everyday language of the common laborers, prison guards, and peasants who populate the novel. Bok maintains a world-weary sense of humor throughout, making the graphic descriptions of torture bearable, and giving way to terror or guilt only during the worst of his ordeals in prison. All in all, the book delivers a powerful message of the need to take action in the face of inhumanity, casting light on the uselessness of passive knowledge of iniquity. Explicit violence, language, and some sexual dialogue throughout.
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LibraryThing member William345
After reading over a hundred pages in Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, which is in large part about the horrid pogroms unleashed on Europe's Jews in the Middle Ages, I thought The Fixer would be a compatible co-read. The novel is set in Russia between the end of the Russo-Japanese War
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(1905) and the start of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). The Fixer tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jew dwelling in a Russian shtetl 30 versts from Kiev who tries to work as a general handyman, a fixer. But there's not much to fix in the shtetl, and not much money to go around in payment. Bok is usually paid in soup. But Bok is ambitious and after being left by his wife, whom he believes barren, he heads for nearby Kiev where there dwells a large population of Jews living in the ghetto. He believes that in the shtetl life was passing him by. On his way to Kiev, he fantasizes about wealth and property and a new wife who bears him beautiful children. He is able to pass for a Russian. One day he finds a fat man, Nikolai Maximovitch, face down in the snow. Turning him over he detects first the liquour on his breath and then the emblem of the Black Hundreds, a virulently anti-Semitic group, on his coat. The man's daughter appears and together they carry the inebriate home. As a reward, Bok is put to work papering the flat Nikolai Maximovutch owns above his own, for 40 rubles--an enormous sum. Later, Bok is promoted to run the Russian's brick factory. When a dead boy is found, and his death absurdly attributed to nonexistent Jewish practices, Bok is picked up by the police. It's clear from the start that their only goal is to frame him for this murder. The intensity of false witness borne against Bok simply astonishes. The monstrous hate with which his accusers are consumed stuns the mind. The so-called testimonies from so-called witnesses reveal a legal system rotten to the core. Everyone, it seems, is a pathological liar. The fixer is then moved to prison and it is here that Malamud appears to do the impossible: to take us through a day to day existence that is bleakness itself and yet which holds the reader through sheer narrative impetus. Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon was probably a model for Malamud, and without question Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago did not appear until 1972 and The Fixer was published in 1966. Both are set in Russia and contain long detailed sections about coercing false confessions. I know a lot of readers abhor this book, or any book not about sunny, feel-good topics. Those readers are apparently in the game for its power to divert them from their current miseries. The Fixer isn't interested in doing that. It is in fact about misery, about suffering. It's almost as if Malamud said: Let me take the grimmest subject matter imaginable and not only make it supremely readable, but make it into art. However, he has done far more than that. He has also dramatized a common plight under the ignorant Tsar Nicholas II--whose entire family would shortly be executed by the Bolsheviks--and thereby instructs us all in matters of virtue.
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LibraryThing member dkeish
Author Malamud has created a character, Yakov Bok, who embodies the definition of endurance. Living the in the early part of the twentieth century under Czarist rule, Yakov is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Because Yakov is a Jew, his plight is not just about the crime but about the
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state of persecution which existed in the Russian state. Malamud writes convincingly of what life must have been like in a Russian prison, living for years at a time in solitary confinement, not even being tried for the crime until the state can manufacture enough evidence to convict an innocent man. Bok is a three dimension character, full of faults yet also able to stand up for a principle. In some ways, the prose is painful as Malamud does a masterful job of describing the suffering of not only Bok, but of those others who try to help him.
My only complaint (and the reason it did not get 5 stars) was the ending which was so abrupt that I actually checked to make sure that the copy I had did not have any ripped out pages. I didn't need a complete wrap up but felt that at least some hint of the future for Bok was needed. I am sure that Malamud felt that his ending allowed the reader to write their own, but I would have liked at least a better conclusion. Overall, however, I would still rank this book as a must read. I have studied a lot of Russian history but this viewpoint is usually from those of wealth and power. Reading about the trials if the everyday Russian Jew was fascinating.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
What a difficult book to read, and, I can only imagine, to write. We start with the injustice of poverty and lack of opportunity in the shtetl and move almost directly into a variety of unjust accusations leveled against Yakov Bok, who has become a scapegoat for all the imagined evil deeds of all
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the Jews in Russia.

Bok leaves the shtetl with hopes of a better life in Kiev. At first, things look up for him. Serendipity finds him a good job, and he is able to afford some books, and even put away some money. The catch is that he has to live in a district from which Jews are forbidden from living. All goes well, although Bok is not a popular figure, until a young boy is found murdered in a cave nearby.

The police show up at his door, arrest him, and summarily throw him in prison. Things go from bad to worse as he is forced to submit to increasingly cruel and dehumanizing treatment, not least of which is having to repeatedly listen to the many crimes he is supposed to have committed. But he steadfastly declares his innocence, and it is this that is supposed to make him one literature's greatest heroes. I'm not so sure about this, but certainly he is a strong character.

His strength almost makes this book harder to read, though. I found myself almost wishing he would confess, even though I knew he was innocent, just so the horribleness would end. But he and I both knew that confessing to a crime that he didn't commit wouldn't help at all, either his own dignity, or the plight of the Jews in Russia. So we endured together until the trial, to which Bok is on his way at the end of the book. At first I was disappointed that we don't fight out what happens at the trial, but then I realized that the result of the trial isn't the point of the book. It's the persecution and the strength that it reveals that really matter.
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LibraryThing member BryeWho
At times painfully funny if viewed absurdly, unfortunately reality seeps in and all becomes cruelly plausible as you realize too many people still cling to superstitions and ignorance where "different" people and races are concerned. Read at your own risk.
LibraryThing member claraoscura
This is a very good book. It contains all the necessary ingredients: interesting plot, 3-D characters and an political and social background.

I particularly like the end. At first, I thought I would be disappointed because I realized there were no pages left for the trial, but then I liked how it is
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resolved. The description of the change in Yakov. The fact that he has become a political man and the implication that no man (specially a Jew) can be apolitical.
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
With the possible exception of Night by Elie Wiesel, The Fixer is the most powerful and affecting book I've ever read.

It tells the story of a Jew living in Russia ~1920. The Fixer is a man who has grown up in the Jewish ghetto and moves into the city of Kiev in an attempt to make a better life for
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He gets a job and all is going well until he runs across a man who is passed out, drunk, in the street. After he helps him to his home, the grateful man offers him a well paying job in his warehouse. Though the Fixer knows that it's in an area of Kiev where Jews are not allowed, he accepts the job anyway.

Eventually he is arrested for living in a Jew-Free-Zone and subsequently is charged with the murder of a local boy. The majority of this book takes place in prison, where the fixer tries desperately to get access to a lawyer, to get an indictment or to just understand at all what the charges before him are.

He is poisoned. He is chained to a wall. He's beaten, he's sexually assaulted. Throughout it all, his captures promise to let him go if he will only admit that he killed the boy because 'the Jews' told him to. He is not a religious man, yet he refuses to pass on the blame.

This story was incredibly hard to read. Overall, an outstanding and highly moving book.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Yakov "Ivanovitch" Bok is a poor Jewish handyman in Russia, a fixer. When his wife of five years couldn't produce a child he stopped having sex with her. This prompted her to run off with another man. Left with his father-in-law and no prospects for work, Yakov decides to leave his little shetl for
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the bigger city of Kiev. He knows that leaving the safety of the Jewish village is a dangerous risk. Kiev is full of anti-semites hungry for the blood of his people. But, he is 30 years old and is losing faith, just short of becoming desperate. A short time after arriving in Kiev he comes across a drunk man lying face down in the snow. His manner of dress tells Yakov the man is not only wealthy, but an anti-semite. Despite this Yakov helps him out of the snow. Nikolai Maximovitch is indeed wealthy and, feeling very much indebted to Yakov, gives him work. He further rewards Yakov with a job as overseer at his brick company and gives Yakov permission to see his only daughter, a crippled by the name of Zina. Despite Yakov's fear of being found a Jew and against his better judgement he reluctantly accepts the job but has nothing to do with Zina. A series of misfortunes lands Yakov in jail where he is accused of being Jewish, attacking Zina, and worse, committing murder. Based on a true story this is a very, very difficult story to read. Yakov's plight is horrible, his situation, dire and it doesn't improve.
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LibraryThing member mels_71
Malamud won both the National Book Award and the Pullitzer prize for this novel. Set in Kiev in 1911 during a period of heightened anti-Semitism, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman blamed for the brutal murder of a young Russian boy.If you're looking for an uplifting read
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don't go here, but if you're looking for something to keep you thinking after you've finished, it's well worth it.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
This work of historical fiction of the Beilis affair written by American author won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It is the story of antisemitism, imprisonment, denial of trial, human rights and justice. Rating 4.5
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
A novel about injustice and forgiveness, this book can be a difficult read just because it rings so remorselessly true. If we make the effort to slog through the depressing grit, we can be transformed by this luminous novel.
LibraryThing member suesbooks
This was a very well written, very painful book. Unfortunately, it is based on a true story.
LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
Based on a true story, The Fixer is the story of a Russian Jew who, in the early 1900s, is unjustly accused of murdering a Christian boy. Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Yakov Bok has a hard luck life as a handyman, or fixer, in the Jewish Pale
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of Settlement. Although political reforms following the 1905 revolution gave Jews new freedoms and political clout, life in the Pale had not improved. After his childless wife abandons him for a goy, Yakov leaves the shtetl for Kiev, where he ends up working in, and living above, a Christian-owned brick factory. With an assumed name, no papers to allow him to live in that part of the city, and anti-Jewish sentiments on the rise, Yakov is headed for trouble.

When the mutilated body of a neighborhood boy is found stuffed in a cave, the evidence – circumstantial and fabricated – mounts against Yakov. He is arrested and left to rot in prison while the sham investigation drags on for years as anti-Semitic authorities try to build a case of ritual murder. With no indictment, no lawyer, and no idea of what is to come, Yakov’s situation is a downward spiral of gloom.

Yakov is motivated by his dwindling hope of exoneration, only meagerly spurred on by a few rare contacts with the outside and tidbits of news about his case. Although claiming to be non-religious and non-political, Yakov worries that his case will spark violent retribution or even a new pogrom against the Jews.

Malamud incorporates Yakov’s tragedy into the larger picture by having characters discuss Russia’s anti-Semitic history and Tsarist politics. It is this contextual detail that raises Yakov’s story above that of one individual’s tribulations and makes it a morality tale about freedom and responsibility in the face of evil and suffering. One of the characters explains Malmud’s thesis:

I am somewhat of a meliorist. That is to say, I act as an optimist because I find I cannot act at all, as a pessimist. Once often feels helpless in the face of the confusion of these times, such a mass of apparently uncontrollable events and experiences to live through, attempts to understand, and if at all possible, give order to; but one must not withdraw from the task if he has some small thing to offer – he does so at the risk of diminishing his humanity.

Or, as Yakov put it more succinctly as he was finally being taken to his trial, “[T]here’s no such thing as an unpolitical man, especially a Jew.”

Malamud is an incredible writer. Even though this story is horribly grim, he grabs the reader and does not let go. The Fixer is a book that everyone should read and, once read, ponder.

Also posted on Rose City Reader.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
During Yakov’s first days in the courthouse jail the accusation had seemed to him almost an irrelevancy, nothing much to do with his life or deeds. But after the visit to the cave he had stopped thinking of relevancy, truth, or even proof. There was no “reason,” there was only their plot
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against a Jew, any Jew; he was the accidental choice for the sacrifice. He would be tried because the accusation had been made, there didn’t have to be another reason. Being born a Jew meant being vulnerable to history, including its worst errors. Accident and history had involved Yakov Bok as he had never dreamed he could be involved. The involvement was, in a way of speaking, impersonal, but the effect, his misery and suffering, were not. The suffering was personal, painful, and possibly endless.

In early 20th century Tsarist Russia, a restless young Jewish man, a fixer by trade, leaves the shtetl for Kiev. Yakov Bok hopes to improve his mind, earn some money, and maybe immigrate to somewhere better like America. Yakov is not a religious man, but he is basically a moral man. A couple of good deeds involve Yakov in a chain of events much larger than himself. Accused of a crime he did not commit, Yakov spends months, years in jail resisting state pressure to confess for the welfare of all the Jews in Russia.

This novel’s religious themes and the suffering that Yakov endures as the state pressures him to make a statement against his will echo similar themes in Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Both novels wrestle with the silence or absence of God in the face of unrelenting suffering. Interestingly, both novels were first published in 1966. Maybe there’s a thesis there for some aspiring scholar of literature.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
This is not an easy one to rate. Yes, it made some important and profound points but much like Blindness which I read earlier this year, it became tedious, tortuous and repetitive. Perhaps if it had been 100 pages shorter I would have given it a 3 or 4. Will have to ask the person who recommended
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this to me why exactly they felt I should read this. Moving on to something light and entertaining next.
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Original publication date



 0671689517 / 9780671689513
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