Editorial Afterward to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Pass”

When Isaac Bashevis Singer passed away in 1991, he knew that his work would be left undone. He had left behind heaps and piles of material in his so-called “chaos room” – the walk-in closet where he kept manuscripts, clippings, notebooks, certificates, diplomas, awards, letters, and many other documents and objects from his literary and personal life. His son, Israel Zamir, wrote in his memoir that, during the last visit when his father’s mind was clear, Singer went into the chaos room and said, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to live another hundred years to edit the stories, translate them into English, and publish them.”

In 1993, the Singer papers were acquired by the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, and were sorted with the help of the late Yiddish scholar Joseph Sherman – a major task considering that, in his lifetime, Singer had produced enough material to translate, edit, and publish for several more decades. In 2014, when Israel Zamir passed away, his children – Singer’s grandchildren – established the Isaac Bashevis Singer Literary Trust with the aim of continuing Singer’s literary legacy, and the first order of business was to pick up where their grandfather had left off, continuing to publish his work. Since then, in my role as editor to the IBS Literary Trust, I have worked together with literary agent Susan Schulman to release these works. Among the stories that were translated but left unpublished in Singer’s lifetime, “The Pass” stands out as a special case. It is short yet ambitious in its conception, aiming to portray the consciousness of a man as he passes from life into death. Some of Singer’s experiments, like “Inventions,” had indeed been set aside during his lifetime, as had stories having to do with death, such as “A Letter to Mama,” which also portrays a man’s spirit at the moment he dies. But here, Singer takes the experiment to its logical end, giving the narration itself over to the dying process. The result is both brief and moving: a testament of faith in the eternal life of the spirit.

The provenance of this story is as mysterious as its subject matter. Unlike almost every other entry in the Singer papers at the Ransom Center, this translation appears without an original Yiddish-language handwritten manuscript, typescript, or clippings from its Yiddish publication. Other than the name of the translator on the English-language typescript, Martha Glicklich – the daughter of a man Singer knew in his youth in Bilgoraj, and with whom he later boarded – there is no information about where this story came from or when it was written. It is possible that it was published under a different title, but a search of the Singer’s bibliographies, which includes thousands of entries, has not yet led to the Yiddish original. As with the case of “The Boarder,” – which was, incidentally, set in the apartment where Singer boarded with the translator’s family – it is possible that the Yiddish original was never published, or that the Yiddish handwritten manuscript exists only as fragments, and is filed away with the hundreds of other unidentified sheaths of paper at the Ransom Center. Either way, all that’s left, at the moment, are the traces of the story in English, which indicate that somewhere, over the mountains, lies a Yiddish original of “The Pass.”

David Stromberg

David Stromberg

David Stromberg is a writer, translator, and literary scholar. He is author of four collections of single-panel cartoons, including BADDIES (Melville House, 2009), and two critical studies, Narrative Faith: Dostoevsky, Camus, and Singer (U Del Press, 2018) and IDIOT LOVE and the Elements of Intimacy (Palgrave, 2020).

He has published fiction in Ambit, Atticus Review, and Chicago Literati, scholarly articles in Comparative Literature Studies, Journal of Narrative Theory, and American Journal of Psychoanalysis, and translations in The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Lapham’s Quarterly. He is editor of In the Land of Happy Tears: Yiddish Tales for Modern Times (Delacorte, 2018), a collection of stories for children, and recently published a series of personal essays in Public Seminar about growing up on the ethnic and cultural margins of Los Angeles.
David Stromberg

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Author: David Stromberg

David Stromberg is a writer, translator, and literary scholar. He is author of four collections of single-panel cartoons, including BADDIES (Melville House, 2009), and two critical studies, Narrative Faith: Dostoevsky, Camus, and Singer (U Del Press, 2018) and IDIOT LOVE and the Elements of Intimacy (Palgrave, 2020). He has published fiction in Ambit, Atticus Review, and Chicago Literati, scholarly articles in Comparative Literature Studies, Journal of Narrative Theory, and American Journal of Psychoanalysis, and translations in The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Lapham’s Quarterly. He is editor of In the Land of Happy Tears: Yiddish Tales for Modern Times (Delacorte, 2018), a collection of stories for children, and recently published a series of personal essays in Public Seminar about growing up on the ethnic and cultural margins of Los Angeles.