Fixer (Malamud)

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1. What is the thematic significance of the title? Why is the novel called, "The Fixer"?

2. The New York Times reviewer, Eliot Fremont-Smith wrote that all Malamud's books deal with the theme of redemption: redemption being...

the movement from "fate or the way things unspeakably are...to individual acts of courage or conscience" and to the realization that "hope is part of the way things are, part of what is given."

In what way, then, might The Fixer be seen as a story of redemption?

3. Why does Yakov leave the shtetl for Kiev? What is he looking for, what does he want? Might Malamud be drawing a possible parallel between Adam & Eve...or Faust?

4. Following up on Question 3: is there a way in which Yakov is responsible for his misfortunes...or is he thoroughly passive, a victim of fate and the machinations of a corrupt system? Does it matter when it comes to how we view Yakov—as hero...or victim...or martyr? Or is he all of those? Or none?

5. Why does Bibikov, the prosecutor, come to believe in Yakov's innocence?

6. Why does Yakov reject religion. Why, even when imprisoned and subjected to brutality, does he not seek solace in God? What does the philosopher Spinoza's teachings offer him that he doesn't find in Judaism? You might do some investigation of Spinoza's life—his ideas and works.

7. Yakov and his father-in-law debate whether God has abandoned Yakov, or Yakov abandoned God? Which do you think? Has Yakov been singled out to bear the punishment of humankind? This is a central question of the Book of Job, as well as The Fixer. Does that question still have resonance today, in the 21st century?

8. In what way is Yakov transformed during his harrowing years in prison?

9. Comment on this passage from The Fixer: "In chains all that was left of freedom was life, just existence; but to exist without choice was the same as death." Yes? No? (Existentialists, like Jean Paul Sarte, believe that we always have choice—even in chains. So...following this passage's logic, it would mean that life has worth—chains or not.)

10. Talk about the historical roots—and practice—of anti-semitism in Russia. Do some research into the many pogroms Jews were subjected to throughout the millennia. How was anti-semitism manifested throughout Europe, Britain, and America...even before the Holocaust. Has the face of anti-semitism changed today?

11. Can you compare The Fixer to other works you might have read in which an individual confronts an unjust, brutal monolithic state—works by Camus ... Orwell ... Dostoyevsky ... Solzhenitsyn ... the myth of Prometheus? Others?

12. The book ends as Yakov is finally to undergo his trial, a long awaited event. What do you think the verdict will be? Given the logic of the narrative, will he be found innocent or guilty?

13. Malamud's story is based on a real murder in Russia and the imprisonment and trial of Mendel Bielis. Beilis was eventually exonerated—after his plight became an international cause celebre. Does this knowledge change the way you see this story? Does it undermine Malamud's intent in The Fixer? Does it lessen Yakov's struggle with life's meaning — or rob him of redemption? Or none of these?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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