"My theory is that the human species is getting worse, not better. I believe, so to speak, in an evolution in reverse. The last man on earth will be both a criminal and a madman."
It's strange, I'm doing now what I shirked in my high school days: I'm doing a book report, in a lazy way, though. I just extract some portions of the book that leaves a deep impression on my way of thinking, to remind me of what the book is about and why it is important. My way is haphazard, whimsical, fun.
Books that used to bewilder me in younger days are now clear and friendly, their information flowing freely into my mind, informing, beguiling, prodding. If you are prepared, you get to understand and play the delightful game of life.
Sometimes I get some answers, and usually those answers lead to more questions. A never-ending thread that leads somewhere, to the indefinable last frontier if you pursue it long enough, if you last long enough. Great men have tried and failed. I don't even know how to begin.
To fully appreciate this 240-page novel, you must have gone through volumes on Philosophy (Singer quotes Spinoza and Schopenhauer); the Jewish, Catholic and other religions; World History ancient and modern, including World War II (particularly about the Holocaust); astronomy, biology and, of course, literature. If you are good in Math, it will be wasted here.
Since all the major characters in this novel -- Herman Broder and his three wives -- are survivors of the Holocaust, they provide a deeper look into what really happened in the Nazi concentration camps and into Stalin's equally murderous treatment of the refugees. Spielberg and Tom Hanks lifted part of the veil in Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers. Movies like The Pianist and Sophie's Choice added their share.
Anyway, here are some parts of the novel which impressed me.
"In Herman's private philosophy, survival itself was based on guile. From microbe to man life prevailed from generation to generation by sneaking past the jealous powers of destruction. Just like the Tzivkever smugglers in World War I, who stuffed their boots and blouses with tobacco... so did every bit of protoplasm, or conglomerate of protoplasm furtively traffic its way from epoch to epoch. It had been so when the first bacteria appeared in the slime at the ocean's edge and would be so when the sun became a cinder and the last living creature on earth froze to death, or perished in whichever way the final biological drama dictated."
Shades of Lewis Thomas, the physician-essayist whose books, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and The Medusa and The Snail, delighted and influenced me in the '80s.
"We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch." That's Thomas, combining mundane existence and small-scale biological observations.
Isaac Bashevis Singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978