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A New Life Mass Market Paperback – 1963

3.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Mass Market Paperback, 1963
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Publisher: Dell; First Thus edition (1963)
  • ASIN: B000GE1J00
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,801,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By AusE VINE VOICE on March 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Bernard Malamud is known for creating deeply flawed characters with strong ideals, and Seymour Levin - known interchangeably as S, Sy, Seymour, Levin and Lev - the central character in this wonderful novel, is no exception. A thirty year old masters graduate, down on his luck, but with the backing of an NYU education, he lands a job as a college instructor in the English department of a fictional mid-western state (Cascadia) college. This opens up an interesting cast of characters who view him with a mix of interest, disinterest, partly an inferior, an activist/idealist (his beard suggests he is a radical in the year 1950 in the midst of red-baiting and community suspicion), a potential threat, an alien, an anomaly.

Levin, "formerly a drunkard" (to quote the author) has deep seated problems and issues of self worth. He is a plain man, though definitely an idealist; however, one gets the sense early on that his idealism comes less from a passionate, inward set of convictions and more from a sense of inferiority, and a desire to find meaning in ideas. His activities and how quickly he reacts to the new environment are fascinating - he wastes no time getting inappropriately involved with a female student, sleeping with the wife of a trusting colleague or getting embroiled in the politics of the English department (here Malamud provides an interesting look at a college in a conservative town that values professional training at the expense of literature and learning) and being drawn into a myriad of ethical and moral dilemmas. Without spoiling the plot any further, Levin breaks every conventional rule in the book - this makes him less a sympathetic character and more someone the reader is almost glad to see suffer the fate he does.
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Format: Paperback
Jonathan Lethem's preface shouldn't be read first but last, as it--albeit subtly--gives away the ending for any reader who makes it to the latter third of the novel. While I did not support the choice made by the protagonist, Sy, at the end, and sympathized more than perhaps I was supposed to with the antagonist, I found this evocation of the Cold War period as spent at a cow college in a small town in the Northwest gripping and surprisingly convincing in its indirect narrative style, which mimics not only the patterns of thinking in Sy's mind, but springs off at times into Joycean reverie.

I have only read Malamud's The Assistant, and that in college, so my pleasure at his plot became all the more pronounced when I found so much of the setting alarmingly familiar--I teach English too at a non-liberal arts college, run by number-crunching techies, so Sy's predicaments--although now I doubt if he could land his position without a PhD--stayed fresh despite happening half-a-century ago.

Issues of academic freedom, nourishing of the soul, escape into nature and ideals vs. the mundane may be new material for those used to Malamud's urban explorations of often NY and Jewish characters, but here it all works. I was mildly intrigued that Sy's Jewishness never gains but one mention, near the end of the novel, but is assumed, I suppose, throughout as he is marked by his beard and his "East Coast" origins as an outsider all the time. The near-absence of religion and the substitution of a longing for nature, perhaps a Wordsworthian sort of wonder, permeates much of the lyrical passages interspersed with the more tormented episodes--which gain as the book lengthens.
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Format: Paperback
A NEW LIFE has been around for over fifty years now. I first read it more than forty years ago. But it remains a favorite Malamud novel for me. I've worn out a few different mass market paperback versions in the dozen or more times I've read it (and taught it too, back in my teaching days).

Although the story of S. Levin, "reformed drunkard," and his married lover, Pauline Gilley, is set firmly in 1950, it still seemed relevant when I read it again this week (July 2012). It remains a classic novel of academia at its worst. A director of composition who cuts pictures out of magazines, hoping to publish a picture book of literature. A dean who was once a successful used car salesman. The frustrated 'old maid' instructor. The office/departmental politics, the genteel poverty, and the sexual intrigue and pecadilloes - it's all still going on in the small third-rate colleges around the country. The McCarthy-ism has been replaced by the ill-conceived "patriot act" of post-9/11 and the nasty partisan garbage that has rendered our Congress nearly impotent.

But most of all it is Seymour Levin who carries Malamud's tale. More mensch than schlemiel or schlimazel, Levin comes across as a Sad Sack Eeyore sorta guy, but with big dreams of improving things, of building "a new life," as the title indicates. Shot through with allusions to Hardy and the rural life, Malamud has nailed the academia of the post-war years perfectly. Much of this is probably due to the author's own years spent teaching at a small college in Oregon back in the 1950s. For more background info on those years, a reader could benefit greatly from reading Janna Malamud Smith's memoir of her father, MY FATHER IS A BOOK, which I found simply delightful and infinitely informative.
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