Saturday, April 21, 2012

The King of the Fields - Isaac Bashevis Singer

I haven't read any other books of Isaac singer, hence it is too early to judge the authour, especially for a Nobel Prize winner(1978). This being the later works of Singer, I'm sure there are more prolific works that missed my attention. This book, a short fable set during the medieval Poland, talks about the growing of civilization from the nomadic, hunter community to the farming community, living together amidst the growing insecurity of attack and murder.

At the outset it is a simple folklorish tale set in Vistula province, where Lesniks ( the hunter community) and Woyaks ( the farming sect) are under constant war. After the last attack where Lesniks lost most of their men, most of the women were raped by Woyak men they escaped to the mountains living in the caves under the leadership of Cybula , who is the best hunter in their surviving group. Cybula's daughter is detained and is now the wife of the Woyak leader. It was soon evident that the few Woyak men may not be able to work in the fields without some additional support. Hence the efforts begun to lure the Lesniks back to the settlement with lucrative offers. Lesniks were persuaded by Cybula's and a new joint community settle working in the fields. however the basic difference between the team continue and the murder and rape did not cease.

Cybula in the meanwhile become the lieutenant of the chielf and was sent on a mission to the nearby ( few weeks travel) town to sell few gold and get necessary seeds and other essentials. On his return, he brouhgt along a Jew slave, as their official shoemaker. The Jew however was much more equipped, as he taught the youngster to read and write as well as telling them stories and about the 'one and only GOD'. The community where single GOD does not exist, and polygamy is the way of living, it was a harsh shock. While they continue to believe in their various GODs , this new concept of a single GOD who is omnipresent did cause some ripples. It did not take long for the systems to fail again and the Lesniks to abandon and escape to the forests. Only to comeback at an appropriate time to kill all the Woyak men and seize power. Cybula , now the new Krol ( chief) is now rule with kingdom with the support of his mistress ( his wife's mother). It is to this setting came another stranger who proclaim to belong to a new belief called Christianity. Similar to Jews, he too believe in a Single GOD, whom he says was done to death by the Jews. Community is now divided between the two beliefs, while not abandoning their own GODs , especially Cybula who continue to believe in his GOD of Death

They were again attacked by another group of horse laden mercenaries, who take over the regime from Cybula, and declare the place as Poland ( derived from Pola , meant field). Disheartened, Cybula escape back to the mountains with his expecting wife , embarking on a long journey.

Fairly simple story of tribal warfare and the change of civilization. Or it can also be said as the birth of the new Polish state. May be it is an attempt to look at the modern civilization through the history. There are interesting characters, each named after some of the vegetables or animals as is the practice then. Most exhibit their primitive behavior, killing raping and engaging in other sexually influenced activities, while not hunting or in the fields. Their emotions are strong, either love or kill. It only Cybula, who thinks beyond these basic states and arrive at his own philosophical understanding. Beyond that there was nothing that caught my attention and I do not consider this as a major work of fiction.

The King of the Fields ( 1988 )

Isaac Bashevis Singer ( translated from Yiddish by the author)

Plume Books

224 Pages
Redrookreview , NY Times

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