The Extroverted Introvert Escapes into a Prison (and other stupid things)

Window from church into anchorite's cell, All Saints, Staplehurst. [CC0] via Wikimedia.

The Magician of LublinThe Magician of Lublin by Isaac Bashevis Singer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightfully sad book that deals with promiscuity, money, loneliness, extroverted insensitivity, and theology - quite the combination. Published in 1960 but set in late 1800s Poland, and translated from Yiddish, it reads like a risqué nineteenth century novel. 

Milton Hindus' 1960 review in the New Yorker does a much better job at capturing the essence of the novel, and I like the idea that the hero, the magician and escape artist Yasha Mazur, "escapes into a prison" of his own making. 

But I was constantly reminded of Epictetus' idea that nothing is either good or bad, except our own choices. Who hasn't lived to regret the choices of the past, when all seemed so banal until the banal things we didn't know we cherished were compromised by our own stupidity?

Yasha exemplifies the chaotic choices of the extroverted introvert, and gives us a glimpse into the damage that one can cause in the pursuit of pointless selfishness. It is all well and good to read such things when one has finally calmed the hell down. 

If only one could travel back to their selfish younger selves and hand them a bag full of books to read. But life isn't like that, and no doubt my selfish younger self would have spat in my face. 

Yasha does that to almost everyone, and like all selfish people, punishes himself so badly that he punishes the few remaining people who still love him, gaining fame through his sagacity earned at the expense of others. At the end of the novel, I was hoping that Yasha would see the light, but no. Selfish prig. 

Without giving too much away, I read up on "anchorites" last year and the concept makes my skin crawl. But in a way, Yasha gets his just deserts. 

We can learn from Singer that our choices, rather than our circumstances, are right or wrong. We can learn from Yasha what our life could be like if we pursue selfishness to its logical conclusion.

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