The Fixer by Bernard Malamud tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman who, in the early 1900s, leaves his small Russian village to find work in Kiev to improve his lot in life.
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Yakov's father-in-law, a man named Shmuel, comes to wish him well in his journey. It is revealed that Yakov's wife is barren, and Shmuel's other daughter ran off with a stranger months earlier, rendering him the village idiot. Yakov is leaving home not only because of a lack of opportunity, but because he fears that pogroms are on the way.
After giving Yakov Shmuel's horse in exchange for a cow, the two part ways. Yakov cautions Shmuel before he goes to find a part of Kiev designated for Jews. Since it is illegal for Jews to live outside specific districts in Kiev, he advises him to settle close to a synagogue to maintain spiritual integrity and safety. On the way out of town, however, Yakov's wagon wheel breaks and he cannot repair it. He thus continues on horseback until the horse turns sickly and he is forces to sell the animal's meat. He continues his journey to Kiev on foot, eventually arriving long after he'd hoped. He moves into the Jewish district but can't seem to find suitable quarters; there's little work available for his occupation as a handyman, and he decides to venture out into the wider city in search of opportunity.
When winter comes Yakov happens upon an old man who is face down on the snowy street. The man is wearing a button that designates him as a member of the Black Hundreds, an Anti-Semitic organization set on expelling Jews from Russia. Yakov, however, decides to help the man up. Along with a woman who comes along with a crippled leg claiming to be the man's daughter, they drag him from the ground and carry him to his house. As Yakov prepares to leave, the daughter asks him to come back the next day so that her father can thank him.
Though Yakov is nervous about returning to the home of Anti-Semite, his lack of luck in Kiev impels him to do so anyway, hoping for a reward. The man he helped, Maximovitch Lebedev, offers him a management job in a brick factory he owns. Yakov accepts, and, providing a false name, goes to live on the factory grounds. Lebedev's daughter, Zinaida Nikolaevna, complicates matters by trying to seduce Yakov in the meantime. Out of fear that his identity as a Jew would be discovered if they became to close, he refuses her advances. Because of this she comes to hate him.
Yakov's life as a manager goes on for a while without incident. One day, however, things take a turn for the worst and Yakov's signature bad luck resurfaces. A young boy is found in a cave near the factory; he's been stabbed multiple times and the newspapers began to speculate that a ritual murder was committed. Anti-Semitic material is distributed at the boy's funeral, blaming his death on the Jews. Yakov decides he must leave the factory, but is arrested on his way out.
Yakov, then identified as a Jew, is interrogated in a courthouse and sent to occupy a small cell. Weeks later he is sent to prison where the interrogation resumed. He is then put into solitary confinement for over a year and a half. The only hope Yakov maintains are for his meetings with the magistrate assigned to his case, a man named Bibikov. The two talk at length about Spinoza, and they strike up a report. Bibikov seems to be the only man in the prison that retains his humanity. This turns to tragedy, too, however, when Yakov comes across a jail cell in which Bibikov has hanged himself by his belt.
In the final pages of the book, Yakov is abused daily. His food is often poisoned and he is subject to unwarranted cavity searches. He receives two visitors: Shmuel and Raisl, his wife. Shmuel expresses his desire to help Yakov and Raisl asks him to sign papers entrusting that an illegitimate child she had belongs to him. Yakov signs the paper and soon later is formally indicted for a crime he didn't commit. He is then taken to the courthouse to be tried for ritual murder among shouting and hooting on the streets.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like this story because it covers the history of tsarist Russia for Jews at the time in a very personal manner.
Best scene in story:
I think the conversations between Bibikov and Yakov are very well done, mostly because they humanize members of a society the author finds unjust.
Opinion about the main character:
I am maddened by Yakov's clinical piousness.