“All men are Jews,” was one of Bernard Malamud’s more enigmatic statements. What exactly did he mean by this epigram? As the Jewish shopkeeper in Malamud’s first novel, The Assistant, says, “If you live, you suffer,” and that is the dominant theme throughout Malamud’s fiction. Suffering is the essence of life, the mark of what it is to be human, and this has been especially true for the Jewish people. “Being born a Jew meant being vulnerable to history, including its worst errors,” as Yakov Bok reflects in The Fixer. Frank Alpine, the goyisher hero—or antihero—of The Assistant, states the same thing from the outsider’s point of view: “That’s what they live for … to suffer. And the one that has got the biggest pain in the gut and can hold onto it the longest without running to the toilet is the best Jew. No wonder they got on his nerves.”

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