Armistice by Bernard Malamud, 1940
The magic trick:
Personalizing World War II without even putting the reader on the same continent as the conflict
This is the first published Bernard Malamud story, and it shows that he was outstanding from the jump.
The story manages to personalize World War II without putting the reader on the battlefield. We’re an ocean away in 1940 New York City. Morris Lieberman is following the news over the radio. For his meat supplier, notably named Wagner, it’s almost like cheering on your favorite sports team. But for Morris, a Jewish immigrant who remembers the Pogrom in Russia as a child, it’s the stuff of nightmares. He is terrified – both for the people of Europe and what the Nazi rise could mean for he and his son. It’s not just a radio broadcast. It’s very real. The reader feels that too. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part.
The reports of the persecution of the Jews that he heard over the radio filled him with dread, but he never stopped listening to them. His fourteen-year-old son, Leonard, a think, studious boy, saw how overwrought his father became and tried to shut off the radio, but the grocer would not allow him to. He listened, and at night did not sleep, because in listening he shared the woes inflicted upon his race.
When the war began, Morris placed his hope for the salvation of the Jews in his trust of the French army. He lived close to his radio, listening to the bulletins and praying for a French victory in the conflict which he called “this righteous war.”
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