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Free Book Review for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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Yakov slept fitfully. In one of his dreams, Bibikov appeared to him and suggested that Yakov, too, might be killed. In another, torture equipment was brought into his cell.

The daytime was no better. Yakov was filled with grief and bitterness. His hope of exoneration was gone.

Yakov's feet had sores on them. They were swollen and the swelling was moving up his legs. He was feverish. Eventually, Warden Grizitskoy came to his cell. He told Yakov that he could not see a doctor. But, later that day, the warden brought an aid from the infirmary to look at him. The aid said that gangrene might develop. The warden gave Yakov permission to go to the infirmary for treatment, but refused to allow anyone to help him. Yakov suggested that Fetyukov could help, but was told that he had been shot for insubordination. The warden suggested that he could crawl if he couldn't walk. So, that is what the fixer did. To reach the infirmary, he had to cross an open area where other prisoners were getting their daily exercise. They watched him. About halfway to his destination, he could go no further. Some prisoners tried to help him, but were not allowed to do so. The slop-pail worker with the broken glasses pulled some rags out of the garbage and bandaged Yakov's knees and hands. The guard allowed this to happen, and then pushed the fixer forward with his foot. This time, Yakov made it across the area to the infirmary.

In the infirmary, after treatment with carbolic acid, Yakov slept for more than a day. When he awoke, it was time to cut the sores so they could drain. This was done without anesthesia. The surgeon suggested that the operation helped Yakov to understand how he had caused Zhenia to suffer.

That night, the fixer had trouble breathing. He also had nightmares.


We also read about the slop-pail worker with the broken glasses in Chapter V, Part 3.



After his release from the infirmary, Yakov was put in a different cell. It was still a solitary one. The warden said that he wanted the fixer closer to him because there were rumors that he might have escape plans.

The winter was cold. At times there was ice on the inside of the outer wall. The broken window let in the wind.

Zhitnyak, one of the guards, told the fixer that there were plans to make him look "kosher." The plans included a caftan and a round hat. Also, his hair would have earlocks.

One day, Yakov was asked to give his fingerprints so that they could be compared to a fingerprint found on Zhenia's belt buckle. Another day, he was asked for a hair sample to be compared to some hairs discovered on Zhenia's body. Then, one morning, he was asked for a handwriting sample.

Yakov was not allowed to shave, so his beard was long now.

Twice a day, Yakov endured a body search, performed by the Deputy Warden with assistance from Zhitnyak.


The requests for fingerprints, hair sample, and handwriting sample give the impression that the authorities were really trying to find the guilty party. More likely, they were trying to manipulate the evidence so that Yakov would look guilty, or trying to give the appearance of being thorough, or procrastinating in the hope that Yakov would eventually confess.



Yakov Bok was even more depressed than he had been. He felt that there would never be a trial.

One day, Yakov noticed a little meat and fat in the cabbage soup. That was the same day that a load of firewood reached the cell. Then, there were other improvements in his diet. But, eating more made him hungrier. He even had dreams about food.

After a week, he was no longer hungry, but that was because he was sick. The guard suggested that the cause of the sickness might be jail fever. A doctor came to the cell and said that he was not feverish. Yakov stopped eating solid food for several days. The diarrhea continued. The guard let Yakov keep a fire going throughout the day. With the bad sickness came one good. There were no body searches. Yakov had nightmares. With nightmares when asleep and sickness when awake, Yakov wanted to die. Then he got the idea that he was being poisoned. Irritated, the Deputy Warden came to his cell and told him that he was not being poisoned. He should eat. After the Deputy Warden left, the warden came to the cell and told Yakov that he knew nothing about any poison and left. He returned and told Yakov that it had been discovered that a Jew in the kitchen was poisoning his food. His compatriots wanted to stop Yakov from confessing to the crime and thereby causing problems for all Jews. Yakov did not accept that explanation.

Yakov continued refusing to eat for five more days. When, on the sixth day, the warden came back to the cell and commanded Yakov to eat, Yakov bargained. He would eat if he could go to the kitchen and take food from the common pot. The warden would not, at that time, agree, but after another day of fasting, he relented.


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Johnson, Jane. "TheBestNotes on The Fixer". . 09 May 2017