Shadows on the Hudson

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Other authorsJoseph Sherman
Book, 1999



Call number




New York : Plume, 1999.


A novel on post-World War II Jewish refugees in New York. It is centered on the Makavers, a prosperous family torn by scandal. Anna, their daughter, has left her husband and taken up with a married man.

User reviews

LibraryThing member suesbooks
This is a very itneresting, well-written book. Probably my favorite of Singer's. It is a portrayal of a group of survivors of the Holocaust now living in New York. Their lives really are a mess, and it seems that their motivation for good deeds is a fear of G-d. After what these characters lived
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through, it's interesting to learn how they lived their lives.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
It's really interesting to read a book so entrenched in the Jewish faith followed by one so deeply invested into Mormonism. I enjoy reading about the Jewish faith much more and even tend to feel I'd be willing to convert to Reform Judaism and be an observer of that faith. There was a time about a
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decade ago when I felt so at odds with Christianity (mainly for their very non progressive stances on liberal issues like gay marriage) that I started looking more into all religions.

In any case, if you are interested in Judaism, this is a good book for you to read. I found it fascinating to read about those Jews who were living in New York (primarily, though a small section of the book takes place in Florida) in the later part of the 1940s. Singer explores the issues for people who are Jewish that came from Russia, Poland, and Germany, their different philosophies and ways of dealing with their experiences under Hitler's horrific reign and also their views on Stalin. I had no idea that some of those in this community had actually deluded themselves into thinking Stalin was this great leader...that was quite scary to me and I never realized that there was a significant part of the population that believed this. I did realize there were people who tried to communicate with the dead who became rather popular around this time, though, and that is also a part of this novel just as this novel is sort of an inadvertent homage to New York City at this time.

Singer really delves into not just the traditions that people in this community follow but also their personal lives. He takes us on a journey where we really get a feel for dealing with their anxieties, paranoias, even religious contradictions. There is quite a great deal of moody contemplation or brooding that takes place amongst many of the male characters but Singer also introduces us to a variety of these different people with contrasting levels of religious devotion and personality. It's interesting to see how their different insights on life and their life choices as well vastly differ from one another in this novel and, considering the 550 page length, we really see these people grow over time.

Memorable Quotes:

pg. 21 "Humankind's greatest possession is still logic."

pg. 34 "All three were silent with the speechlessness that comes of doing something against one's will, as though at this late hour the powers that determine human action had made known what they normally keep hidden... In the middle of the night every object was alive with its own thoughts, its vital essence exposed as if intruders had stumbled upon it in the midst of furtive activity."

pg. 35 "In always in a crisis, a dilemma. The Maker of Dreams is like a great writer. He never lacks a plot. Every night he comes up with something new, but the main theme is always the same. I'm caught in a quandary."

"It must be something in your subconscious mind."

"I don't have to delve into my subconscious. Modern man's whole life is one long predicament."

pg. 55 "Although the window did not overlook the street, even from here one could catch the sounds of New York awakening. A truck revved its motor, gasping repeatedly like a mortally wounded monster hovering between life and death..."

pg 71 "The kitchen window faced south, and from it one could see the buildings of Central Park South, the skyscrapers of Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building. The twilight mist deepened. Here and there a window was already lit up, and the sharp electric light sent a glow through the haze. A solitary airplane flew overhead, shrieking like some monstrous bird. The Central Park reservoir was framed in snow like a silver mirror. In the evening dusk, New York appeared still, white, a city without people, a forgotten settlement locked in ice on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Even the rows of automobiles winding along the roads in Central Park had a mechanical emptiness about them, like toys that had been wound up and now moved automatically. The window was open a crack and cold air blew in."

pg. 131 "What's there to see at the movie theater? Only gangsters, over and over. In Russian pictures they show endless tractors, and in ours-gangsters. That's because each side shows what it's got the least of. If the Russians were to show all their gangsters and we were to show all our tractors, the movie would never end."


"When a catastrophe happens, however, and the ground disintegrates beneath your feet and you're left suspended in midair with one foot in the real world and the other over an abyss, then all the arts in the world can't console you. Then a man sees that he's been walking the whole time on a narrow plank straddling Gehenna."

pg. 160 "How time flies! Time is also a Hitler. It too destroys everything."

pg. 179 "In places where the naked eye could see only a solitary, half blurred, tiny light, the telescopic lenses revealed entire clusters of stars, laughing with golden glee in the infinite heights..."

pg. 183 "Bit it's boring without God. Faith is the only force that keeps people from insanity.

pg. 222 "The world as we know it today was in reality one huge underworld."

pg. 230 "Anfang stretched out on his bed and covered himself with his overcoat. He looked up at the pale blue wintry sky through the glass roof. Something was trembling and vibrating up there. The sky, too, was probably waiting for some kind of cataclysm, the manifestation of some power that would rip space and time apart like a sheet of paper, leaving nothing behind. Less than nothing. Nothing could be squared. Nothing would return to nothingness, to formlessness and void that would lie inert in post-Creation vacancy. How was it written? "When all things have ended, after all Being has ceased, non-Being will have dominion." No more world, no more God, no more time, no more space. Hush, quiet. Nothing has happened. Everything has been erased without a trace. The soap bubble has burst and neither soap nor water remains. Even nirvana no longer exists. Who is dozing, then? I, Jacob Anfang.

He suddenly heard footsteps on the stairs. Someone had come to visit him. he sat up. Who could be calling on him so early? God, perhaps?"

pg. 287 "They had names for everything: for murdering six million Jews, for liquidating millions in Russia. As soon as they gave the monster a name, it ceased to be monstrous. They needed nothing more."

pg. 304 "A human being is like a Hanukkah top that children spin. One top spins for a long time and another barely gets started before it falls over."

pg. 312 "Knowledge can never come only to a single individual-it grows out of the cumulative experience of the whole human species."

pg. 323 "The display windows of the fashionable boutiques were now dim. In the darkness the mannequins laughed with secret midnight life, their daytime inanimateness nothing more than a charade."

pg. 339 "Her type dances on graves. For them death is something that happens to other people."

pg. 361 "Confusion now hath made his masterpiece."

pg. 439 "His entire being is predicated on mistakes. He is, you might say, one of God's typographical errors, and that's where his charm lies."

pg. 469 "There's no greater destroyer than the human species."

pg. 493 "Would anyone have believed all this if it were described in a book? ow could one make others understand such a bizarre chain of events?


In the middle of the night, Anna started laughing in bed. Her fate amused her."

pg. 525 "Did this mean that Nature had room for purposeless things? If so, then everything might be purposeless."

pg. 525-526 But how was it possible that nothing existed beyond the earthly? Was it conceivable that the cosmos was the result of pure chance? What possible relevance could the chance have in regard to the operation of the universe? How could it be supposed even for a moment that the powers which had brought forth a Plato, a Newton, a Pascal could themselves be deaf and blind? If a patch of earth could give life to a rose, and the womb of a woman could bear a Dostoevsky, how could millions, billions, trillions of worlds be nothing more than insensible matter. One thing, however, was surely possible: that human beings remained just as limited later as the were earlier. They had puny bodies and tiny souls. The bodies rotted and the souls burst like soap bubbles."
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Original language


Original publication date

1998 (English translation)
1957-01 to 1958-01 (Yiddish Serialized in The Forward)


0452280036 / 9780452280038
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