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The Assistant: A Novel Paperback – July 7, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (July 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374504849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374504847
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This new specialty-interest audio publisher is launching its line with two strong titles in addition to this one: Betrothed by S.Y. Agnon, read by Peter Waldren, and Miss America, 1945: Bess Myerson and the Year that Changed Our Lives by Susan Dworkin, read by Bess Myerson and Adam Grupper. Known especially for the craft of his short stories, Malamud (The Fixer; The Natural) published this novel in 1957. Frank Alpine is an Italian-American drifter who lands a job working for a humble Jewish grocer in Brooklyn. When he falls in love with the storekeeper's daughter, he is forced to reexamine his moral and spiritual beliefs. Guidall, one of audio's finest narrators, extracts a strong sense of atmosphere from Malamud's richly descriptive language. He throws himself into the many charged dialogue scenesAcomplete with the ethnic accents requiredAexpressing pathos and humility without overdramatizing.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The clarity and concreteness of [Malamud's] style, the warm humanity over his people, the tender wit that keeps them first and compassionable, will delight many.... Mr. Malamud's people are memorable and real as rock."
--William Goyen, The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

I read this book for a class in high school.
H. Shaw
This is a truly remarkable and oddly reminiscent of real life as it captures all the conflicting emotions that often hinder humanity.
One of those rare books which seems to fully make concrete an abstract ideal of human goodness.
Shalom Freedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By lisatheratgirl VINE VOICE on November 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I've read this book 50 years after it was published, but unlike some novels, it's not dated at all. Not only does it work well as a period piece, but its portrayal of people, of the body blows dealt by life, and of the way this country doesn't live up to what immigrants think they are going to find is relevant today. I felt the publisher's blurb on the edition I had and some other reviews may have oversimplified or misstated some of the characters. Frank is not some remorseless sociopath who walks in to rob, rape and pillage. Frank is a complex person who for much of the book is caught in a vicious circle of doing wrong, experiencing tremendous pain of conscience, determining to make right what he has done, getting into difficulties, and doing wrong again to get out of a jam. At one point, he is described as a man of morality, and there is hope for him. He's not a thug; that would be Ward, the police officer's son who returns to the neighborhood to commit crimes. Helen takes a long time to realize that she isn't entirely blameless in her involvement with Frank. Whether a rape takes place is somewhat ambiguous, but Helen believes this is what happened. Helen is caught in the trap of waiting for nothing, in her own words. Frank looks better and better given the other choices she has. Morris, Helen's father, looks at his mom and pop grocery store as a prison. Morris is a victim, yet if he had made a little effort to help himself, things may have turned out better for him. He is a terrible businessman, he makes foolish decisions about his health, and he is taken advantage of by everyone. The whole family is caught in a trap by the failing store and grinding poverty that has them in a downward spiral. Morris and Ida are Russian Jews who came to America with the hope of finding something better.Read more ›
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By ❋ R I Z Z O ❋ VINE VOICE on November 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
If ever there was a verbally-tight book, it is this. Every page is interesting, every word, and there is never a dull page. In true Melamud style, the stories are short but powerful. The superb writing of the plot moves consistently. However, I did get the feeling toward the end that a number of dramatic sequences seemed crammed at the end, and without the minute attention paid to the earlier part of the story.
The plot evolves in post-war, a neighborhood in New York among an aging Jewish grocer whose deli/food store business struggles amidst modernism and greedy competition. The main characters, Morris, his stoic wife Ida and a grown daughter Helen live above the store and work long hours to keep it alive. Daughter Helen yearns to have a loving man and an education.
Enter Frank Alpine, a young Italian man who after a criminal act upon Morris, and unbeknown to Morris, Frank lands a job in the store to pay his debt. Here, he continuously fends off his demons while attempting to follow a morally correct life and in his command, the store goes through economic and physical changes that fluctuate greatly, not always good or bad. And, as expected, he falls in love with the daughter and their relationship takes turns and twists too.
Immediately, Melamud gives us a distinct picture of the desperation the family endures. You can grasp with ease the images and separation of personalities. This is done with precision applied by the finest authors. We get more than we anticipate, when Melamud provides extensive insight into his character descriptions, and most important, to their thoughts. Above that, he provides us with questions and answers we might need to further develop the characters thoughts and actions.
After absorption into the story, I still had questions and I'm sure you will too and maybe it takes another read. Overall, the short classic is excellent. ........MzRizz
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Miami Bob on June 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
The word "Assistant" includes the letters S.A.I.N.T And, the person who is the assistant herein well reflects Christianity's concepts of sainthood or someone who is "born again."

A simple ground floor grocery man, Morris Bober, lives in a simple second story flat with his wife, Ida, and beautiful 23-year old daughter, Helen. Business is worsening, and while it falls, he meets Frank Alpine - an Italian goyim.

Frank works for peanuts for Morris and manages to raise the business from its ashes. Things begin to look good - but Ida's fears of a goyim living so close to her very Jewish daughter are well deserved.

Frank is not a saint by birth. Frank is an orphan who lived an abusive childhood, and he merely wants to be loved. He practically enslaves himself for Morris - partly to be loved and partly for penance. But, whatever his evil ways were, he is almost devoid of the same after meeting Morris. Malamud probably intentionally chose Frank to be Italian - and incorporates what the Roman Catholic Church associates as "being born again": baptism. Working in the grocery for Morris is Frank's baptism.

What makes this book so fascinating is the concept of rebirth after criminality. Really, criminality's born again Christianity became vogue a decade or decades after publication of this novel (1957) with the 1976 book written by Charles Colson of Watergate fame.

This insightful work on Christianity becomes even more fascinating when one considers the source - a young Jewish writer who grew up in a delicatessen with an impoverished father who is much like Morris. And, the greatest part of the rebirth arises in the end when Italian Frank - learning about Judaism - converts. He is a born again Jew.
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