The Fixer - Bernard Malamud, Jonathan Safran Foer Yakov Bok is non-religious and apolitical. He simply wants a better life. He is slightly bitter that life gives him lemons but no sugar to make lemonade but that does not keep him from trying to improve. He reads Spinoza to educate himself and moves to Kiev to start a better life. He is a repairman aka a "fixer". Unfortunately, he is also a Jew in Tsarist Russia.

I like Yakov. He is Everyman. He is not a hero nor a wise man. But he is sincere and honest. He is a basically honest man placed in an horrific situation. His one deceit, trying to pass as a gentile in an anti-Semitic society, is a deceit born of desperation and survival. Yakov is accused of killing a young boy in a "Blood Ritual". In the Russia of 1905 he has little chance of proving himself innocent. He is beaten and thrown in jail to waste away only to be repeatedly told to sign a confession to stop the torture. Yakov refuses but his faith in humanity, in society and in God is tested and weakened. He meets only one man who is willing to fight for him but even that is no match for the fears and prejudices of an unfair society.

Malamud is not the type of writer to sugar-coat anything. His style is to the point and his descriptions of prison life comes close to unbearable. Yet Yakov remains the focus of this tale and that is the strength. Many of the most moving moments comes when Yakov have delusions and dreams caused by starvation, illness and general suffering. These delusional dialogues hold much of the philosophical meat of the novel. The ending dialogue of Yakov talking to Tzar Nicholas is a fitting and satisfactory scene in a climax that looks open-ended but really isn'., For while the author packs a lot of social and political discussion points in his tale, it is really about the emotional and philosophical journey of Yakov who would like to "fix" much more than just material objects but doesn't know how.

I don't know how well Malamud has held up in the 21st century. But if any writer can be called a student of the human condition it is he. His writings still hold true in its assessment of humankind's fears toward the unfamiliar and society's oppression toward others.