Customer Reviews: Enemies, A Love Story
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on June 29, 2004
Imagine being a Jew in Brooklyn, NY in 1949. Just about everyone you know has been through the Nazi camps. Just about everyone you know has lost husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and sometimes all of the above. Just about everyone you know has survived years of awful, humiliating, degrading and terrifying experiences. How would you cope? How would you maintain your faith in God? How would you begin--not to mention maintain--a relationship based on love, one with hope for the future and the dream of children?

This is the story of Herman Broder, a fortyish Polish expatriate. He was not a survivor of the camps. Instead, he escaped them by spending three years in a barn owned by the mother of his illiterate peasant servant, Yadwiga, who hid and fed him. In helpless gratitude, and for no other reason, he married her after the war so that she could come to the U. S.

Herman also has a mistress, Masha. Masha is married but is separated from her husband. Masha spent years in the camps. She is very beautiful. She smokes incessantly, speaks rapidly, is a bundle of nervous energy and she can't sleep. "If I do . . . then I'm back with them immediately. They're dragging me, beating me, chasing me. They come running from all sides, like hounds after a hare." She lives in a cramped apartment with her mother whom she loves but whose strictly orthodox ways are a reminder to her every day of her wayward current life . . . and possibly also the life she led in the camps from which she escaped.

Herman ekes out a living by ghost-writing for a showy rabbi, but tells Yadwiga that he sells books out of town so he can stay with Masha for days at a time. He doesn't want anyone else to know that he works for the rabbi and doesn't want the rabbi to know where he lives. His life is a complex weave of lies and cover-ups, stories and duplicity, and into the middle of it comes his wife from Poland, Tamara, whom he had thought to be dead these many years. She has also survived the camps. "We sawed logs in the forest--twelve and fourteen hours a day. At night it as so cold I couldn't sleep at all. It stank so, I couldn't breathe. Many of the people suffered from beriberi. One minute a person would be talking to you, making plans, and suddenly he would be silent. You spoke to him and he didn't answer. You moved closer and saw that he was dead."

It turns out that Herman wasn't such a great husband before the war. It turns out that he abandoned his wife and his two children for another woman. It turns out that his children did not survive the camps. Imagine this.

Herman is a mass of indecisiveness. He can not say no to anybody. He can not believe in God but finds he can not abandon him. He can not practice his religion but can not leave those who do. He can not plan for the future because he can not believe there will be one. He can not leave Yadwiga but he can not love her. He can not meet Masha's expectations but is helplessly in love with her. He feels he must do right by Tamara but finds that he is physically, mentally, legally and emotionally incapable of doing so.

He is a clown; a sad clown; a forlorn, likable, exasperating clown, stumbling from one comical misadventure to the next, complicating his life further with every effort he makes to simplify it. He lives in a world in which no one can bear to confront the truth; a world in which the truth is simply a philosophical conceit which is as likely as anything else to cause pain.

His story is told in a very straightforward style by his creator, Mr. Singer, who is a careful and deliberate observer, but who never passes judgment, expresses opinion, or provides explanation. His characters are sharply defined. Their conversations are loaded with meaning, and sometimes that which is not said speaks more loudly than that which is. It is a humorous tale that is also sad and poignant and true. It is a remarkable piece of work, a brilliant piece of work, and it stands as a testament to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.
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on July 27, 2004
Isaac Bashevis Singer was an idea novelist, in the way that Turgenev was. He fashioned his plots and characters around the questions he wanted to explore, and never let them get out of his control. But, like Turgenev, Singer was a great writer and never let his characters and plots become secondary. His writing is always entertaining as well as enlightening. Enemies, A Love Story is a case in point.

Herman Broder is a Jewish man living in New York City in the late 1940's, having survived the Holocaust in Poland hiding from the Nazis. Now the war is over, but Herman is no more at liberty than he was then. Believing his first wife died in a concentration camp, Herman has married again; he also has a mistress; to both women he lies about his work, and to his boss he lies about his women. Then his first wife shows up alive, and now he has to lie to her too. Herman is always on the verge of running, he must relentlessly cover his tracks in case he has to escape again. This sounds like a comedy of errors, and Singer finds the humor in Herman's plight, but he never loses sight of the tragedy which produced Herman's obsession with escape. This is a man so damaged that he can't really live anymore, and that's the question Singer is exploring with Enemies: is it possible to be whole again after going through the Holocaust? And if not, is it possible to live with the pieces that are left? Consider Vladek Spiegelman in Art Spiegelman's Maus, also a Holocaust survivor who only made it through sheer luck and a relentless hoarding and parceling out of otherwise mundane and unimportant items; now, though he's wealthy and free to do as he pleases, he can't stop hoarding, just in case.

Singer is asking, are the Jews who lived through Hitler's final solution dead, in their own way, like the victims who went into the ovens? What is there to do when you've lived through the unthinkable, and when so many people didn't? Enemies, A Love Story is a brilliant novel that grabs you by the mind as well as the heart.
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on August 18, 2000
Singer's ear for the way people really spoke was impeccable, and his gifts in this area are on display beautifully in "Enemies." The dialogue in this book is unmatched in fiction.
By the way, it's funny, sad and ironic that Amazon visitors have written exactly two reviews of "Enemies," while several hundred have been written about "The Bridges of Madison County." I believe that Singer himself would just smile at this fact.
Final thought: Read this book. It's one of the ten best novels of all time.
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VINE VOICEon December 21, 2006
How does one cope with such a thing? You know? The Holocaust.

It was the Holocaust that took Herman's parents, wife and two children. He manages to survive by hiding in a hayloft. For three long years, a former servant in his home, Yadwiga, a plain, uneducated but loving Polish woman, keeps him hidden and alive. After the war, we find Yadwiga and Herman married and living in Brooklyn. For other Holocaust survivors, Brooklyn represents opportunity, a sense of re-birth. All around him, new families are being formed out of what is left of old ones. Old customs are being renewed. The old prayers are said. Feasts are held. Traditions prevail. Life goes on. The future is hopeful, but not for Herman. Herman merely exists. He has a job as a ghost-writer for a famous rabbi. Herman is good at writing inspirational messages, messages of hope. But, Herman is not a believer. Not anymore. Not since the Holocaust. To Herman, God is either dead or an enemy. God is out to get him. Herman has a mistress, Masha, a camp survivor. His life is complicated. Then, as it turns out, his first wife who supposedly died in the camps, she's alive. Now Herman has two wives and a mistress. Complicated. They all want a piece of him. Emotionally, he retreats to the hayloft. But, emotionally, Herman is already dead, as dead as he would have been had he been found and sent to the camps, as dead as the rest of them, as dead as his faith in God. In the hayloft, minute by minute, day by dragging day, Herman was already gone
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on May 2, 1999
Singer's "Enemies" represent characters that can't escape from their past and struggle with the notion of where they want to go. The book is very powerful in its subtle way of describing the horror of the Holocaust's effect on individuals and people.
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on November 15, 2011
I saw the movie version of "Enemies" years ago and enjoyed it immensely. The visual from the film that sticks in my mind is the protagonist, Herman Broder, looking up at a sign in the Coney Island Subway Station that offers the choice of "Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx" and not knowing which way to go. I had to laugh because Herman has three women, one in Brooklyn (his wife), one in Manhattan (his first wife returned from the dead), and another in The Bronx (his lover). Herman cannot decide which woman he belongs with. He is a survivor of the Holocaust who has lost faith in everything and just allows himself, like an animal, to be swept along by events as they occur. What makes us human is the will to make decisions and move forward. Singer seems to be saying that Holocaust survivors are souls who have lost their will power.

It would have been easy to criticize Herman but I felt sorry for him and found myself unwilling to be judgmental about his behavior. Life choices can be confusing and it is often difficult to know what to do. In fact, I felt sympathy for all of Singer's characters who are caught up in their post-Holocaust existence. Like the film, "Life Is Beautiful," the clever use of humor made the sadness of this book more poignant. Herman reminded me of an Auschwitz survivor I met when I was 14 working in Manhattan during the summer. There was some indefinable quality of pain about this man and I have never been able to forget him. Even to a 14-year-old, he seemed to be a lost soul.

The ending of "Enemies" suggests that hell can be ordinary life when one is driven to the point at which decision-making is no longer possible. Singer's writing has a lyricism and a pathos that render the characters incredibly multi-layered and real. "Enemies" left me with a certain sadness but I was happy nevertheless to have experienced these complex people.
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on September 24, 2011
The story was that of a man who'd survived the holocaust in Poland. Believing that his wife had been killed, he eventually emigrated to New York and married a Polish woman, who'd been his mother's servant and was eventually responsible for hiding him during the Nazi occupation.

The story begins several years after he'd moved to New York and in those ensuing years, he's taken a mistress. His life is complicated, as he's in love with his mistress but feels beholden to his wife. To add further confusion for him, his first wife turns up alive and living in Brooklyn. Only when he is reunited with her does he realize that the idealized version of her he remembered was very much fiction. In fact, he openly despised her and left her and his two children well before the holocaust would have separated them.

The writing is tight, and funny. There are a ton of secondary characters that add humor and complications to the tale. I felt both pity and disgust with the main character, and these feelings only increased as he refused to make a choice between the women, even as they gradually learned more about his situation.

In summation : I found this book to be complex, at both times funny and incredibly moving. I would recommend it to anyone who likes challenging writing coupled with a complex storyline.
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Isaac Bashevis Singer won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. This is one of his famous novels. It is a fascinating tale. It focuses on the life of some holocaust survivors who were able to settle in America. Each is troubled because of their holocaust experiences, the entanglement of their lives, and their personality deficiencies. All but one is Jewish. Each has rejected most of their Jewish beliefs because of their death camp experiences.

Herman Broder unintentionally has three wives. He has extreme difficulties arranging for the needs of the three as well as his own needs. He feels guilty and fears impending doom; the police may arrest him, charge him with polygamy and ship him back to Poland. He works for a rabbi who is unable to write his own sermons and books and Herman composes them for him. He is unable to give the rabbi his telephone number so that the rabbi can contact him if he needs to do so because he doesn't want the rabbi to discover that he is married to a non-Jewish woman.

This woman Yadwiga was a peasant who saved him from the Nazis by hiding him in her loft for three years. Yadwiga is far from bright. She is unable to read and write or learn how to do it. She is afraid of leaving her house. Herman does not love her, but married her because she saved him. While Herman has given up Jewish practices, the non-Jew Yadwiga observes them, including lighting candles on Shabbat and making kosher Jewish-style foods for him to eat. Herman lies to her and invented a story that he needs to leave town frequently to sell books. He doesn't sell books but goes to beautiful Masha.

While Yadwiga knows nothing of Masha, she knows about her and frequently and cruelly disparages her for her lack of intelligence and insists that Herman divorce her. But Herman feels he owes her a debt; she saved his life, and he will not leave her, for without him she will die.

Then there is Tamara with whom he was married in Poland. He had two children with her, and the Nazis killed them both.
Singer explores all of their lives in this novel and besides doing so in a suspenseful manner, uncovers much about human nature. One of his many disclosures is that Herman, like all people, can love someone who is his enemy, who is destroying his life.
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on June 21, 2016
This is the most perfect novel I've read in a long time.The characters are complex and interesting.They are the "story".That said the novels greatest strength lies in the dialogue, which is , at times, superb.An example of this can be found early in the book.Herman Broder escaped death at the hands of the Nazi's by hiding in a servants hay loft for years.After the war , he marries the servant. Justifiably ,he thinks the wife he had before the war is dead.Then she turns up in New York.She was shot by the Germans, lived and wound up spending most of the war in a Soviet concentration camp.Tamara and Herman meet and discuss matters.Tamara says (re wife number 2) wasn't there any other way to repay her?And then says - I better not ask.Herman - who isn't the nicest man responds by saying-There isn't anything to ask ,that's the way it is.Which is precisely to the point.We- the readers- naturally sympathize with Tamara but we also know that she isn't really upset he took another wife.Tamara , a one time Communist and Left Zionist is primarily offended that Herman has married an illiterate gentile peasant.In other words this woman who has been through so much and is basically a good person can still be a chauvinistic snob.Singer insists on these kind of tricky complexities and the novel is full of them.Herman is not appealing but he is rather fascinating.Everyone here is a grab of contradictions.They are religious atheists ascetics and sensualists.It is all very confusing and it beautifully rendered.I can't think of another book quite like it !
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on January 25, 2016
Enemies, A Loves Story, is a heartbreaking, hilarious and thought provoking novel. The characters are so vivid and engaging, that I actually find myself missing them. The underlying themes and subject matter are as relevant today (if not more so) than when this novel was first published. Enemies, a Love Story is perfect in every way and on every level; I have read many novels and stories in my life thus far, but none are better than this. Do yourself a favor and read this magical gem of a book, you will be moved, entertained, and perhaps forever changed.
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