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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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Yakov felt strange in Kiev. He did not know his way around. He didn't want to be recognized as a Jew. He went to an Orthodox Church and left when a hunchback suggested that he join in. Afterward, he toured the Lavra catacombs and viewed religious relics including the hand of Saint Andrew. Others kissed the hand, but Yakov, at the last moment, decided against doing so.


The Lavra catacombs are visited by tourists in Kiev today. An Internet search will provide a lot of information on them.



Early in his time in Kiev, Yakov stayed in a Jewish part of the city, the Podol. The area was poor.

The second month he was there, he searched for work in the Podol and Plossky Districts. He stayed at the flat of Aaron Latke, a printer's assistant who had eight children to feed. Yakov’s bed was a burlap covered bench.

One night, in the Plossky District, Yakov found a drunken man lying with his face in the snow. He was wearing a Black Hundreds pin. Yakov's first instinct was to leave the man, but instead he pulled him to safety. The man's crippled daughter ran up to them and together she and Yakov managed to get him to the building where he and his daughter lived in a flat. At that point a porter helped them. The daughter, whose name was Zinaida Nikolaevna, introduced her father to Yakov. Her father's name was Nikolai Maximovitch Lebedev.

The next day, Yakov returned to the flat in response to the father’s request conveyed by the daughter. Yakov was unsure about whether he should return, but he figured that there might be a reward, so he went.

Lebedev offered Yakov a job as a reward. He needed repairs done on one of the flats in the building. He practically patted himself on the back for offering a job instead of a monetary reward. Yakov accepted the offer and quickly left the flat. That night he changed his mind about whether or not he should actually return to the place and work. But, he did return.

While he was working on the flat that needed repairs, Lebedev's daughter, Zinaida, visited Yakov. She told him that she was lonely.

When the job was finished, Lebedev, who was pleased with Yakov’s work, had a proposition for him. He needed someone reliable to oversee a brickyard that he had inherited from his recently deceased brother. Yakov explained that he lacked experience in that area. Lebedev did not consider that to be too important. What he thought was important was honesty and common sense and he did not seem to doubt that Yakov had both. Lebedev gave Yakov an extra reason to accept the offer. Beyond the monthly pay of forty-five rubles was a place to stay right on the brickyard property. It was a loft over the brickyard stable. Yakov was worried about taking the job, because he was Jewish and Jews were not permitted to live there, but he took it anyway. It could be just the opportunity that he needed.

Later, after Yakov had finished the last details of the job, Zinaida came up to the flat on which he had been working and invited him to a little celebration of the completion of the old job and the start of the new job. He was not eager, but went along with the plan. After a meal, she invited Yakov to her room. She intended to have sex with him. He went to the bathroom to undress, as she suggested. Meanwhile, she began to wash herself in her room. When he entered the room, he saw blood running down her leg. He told her that she was unclean. He could not have sex with her. He dressed and left while she asked him to have mercy.


Nikolaevna means “daughter of Nikolai.”


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