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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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After Yakov had been at the brickyard two days, he woke in the middle of the night and went to watch the loading of the bricks onto wagons. Lebedev had told him that he wanted Yakov to be his eyes and ears on the job, and he was doing just that. That morning when the foreman, Proshko, brought Yakov the number of bricks that had been loaded, it was a lower number. That angered Yakov.

Yakov had tried to back out of the agreement after he learned that the brickyard was located in an area where Jews were not allowed to live. He had also tried to change only the living arrangement while still working at the brickyard, but Lebedev would not allow a change. Nighttime was the time when he felt that Yakov's presence at the brickyard was most needed.

Yakov informed Proshko that he would be watching the loading of the wagons each night. Then, it was Proshko's turn to be angry.

Proshko said something about Yakov's nose and that Yakov should be careful. After leaving Yakov, he returned and inquired about whether Yakov had registered there yet.

Proshko suggested that Yakov give him his papers so Proshko could get them stamped by the police for Yakov. Yakov told him that Lebedev had already taken care of it. Then Proshko commented on the way Yakov spoke Russian. This whole incident made Yakov uneasy, as Proshko was insinuating that he knew Yakov was a Jew. But, he did not stop watching the loading of bricks. That is what Lebedev wanted him to do.

After a month, Lebedev wrote Yakov a letter congratulating him on his good work. The letter included a mention of Zinaida sending her regards. No one else appreciated what he was doing, not Proshko, of course, not Richter, a German, nor Serdiuk, a Ukrainian.

In part because he had no social life, Yakov read a lot. He studied the Russian language and Russian history. He read about Spinoza. He read newspapers and pamphlets. He read about the Decembrists and the Narodniki. He read about Peter the Great and the destruction of Novgorod by Ivan the Terrible. He discovered that Russians made pogroms against other Russians besides Jews. He read Spinoza as he attempted to understand what was happening and what had already happened.

Yakov received a letter from Zinaida. She wanted to see him. He never answered the letter.

In February, Yakov was uneasy. One day, he chased two boys out of the brickyard. He had already warned them to stay away. Skobeliev and Proshko watched him chase the boys. His uneasiness continued, leading him to order counterfeit papers, but he did not pick them up. Then, his mood changed for the better.

In April, Yakov rescued an old man from attack by some boys. He was a Hasid. At first, he seemed dazed. It was too late for a streetcar to take him home, so Yakov decided to take him into the brickyard and clean his wound. Yakov offered him something to eat, but he only ate some matzo pieces that he had with him. As he said the blessing for the matzos, Yakov suddenly realized that it was Passover.

In the morning, after the Hasid said his morning prayers, Yakov was eager to get him out of the brickyard. He managed to do so and, at the streetcar stop, he hailed a sledge for him to take to the Podol.

When Yakov returned to the brickyard, he met Proshko, who was, unlike Yakov, happy. When Yakov returned to his living space, he had the feeling that someone had been there while he was away.

The next day, Yakov learned that a body had been discovered in a nearby cave. Soon, he read an account in the newspaper. The victim was a twelve-year old boy named Zhenia Golov. From a picture accompanying the text, he saw that it was one of the boys he had chased out of the brickyard. The article mentioned thirty-seven wounds. It appeared that they were made by a thin, pointed instrument. The newspaper mentioned that the boy's body had been drained of blood, "possibly for religious purposes."

Two days later, Yakov watched the funeral. He could see it from the window of the stable. As the coffin was lowered into the grave, someone in the crowd threw leaflets into the air. They said "We accuse the Jews."

A week after the funeral, a large cross was placed on the grave by members of the Kiev Union of Russian People and the Society of the Double Eagle. The newspapers covering the event told of a call for a crusade against the Jews. Yakov knew they were attempting to incite a pogrom.

Soon Proshko wore a Black Hundreds button. Yakov felt it was time to go and pick up the counterfeit identification papers (to represent that he was not Jewish) that he had purchased. But, the place had burned down. Discovering this, he hurried back to the brickyard to grab his things and head for Amsterdam before he was accused. As he was heading back down the stairs with his belongings, he was stopped by the head of the Secret Police in Kiev, along with thirty other officials, and arrested. Yakov confessed that he was a Jew. Other than that, he was innocent of any wrongdoing, especially a murder.


A sledge is: A vehicle mounted on runners and often drawn by draft animals, used for traveling or for conveying loads over snow, ice, rough ground, etc.

Decembrists were involved in an uprising in Russia in December of 1825.

The Narodniki were populists active in Russia from 1860 to the end of the nineteenth century.

The term Hasid refers to: A member of a Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century in eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word.


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