Trial of the (last) century
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Trial of the (last) century

Fixing 'The Fixer'

“Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis,” includes a discussion concerning the connection between the Beilis case and the novel “The Fixer,” the 1966 Pulitzer Prize winner by Bernard Malamud. The discussion is based on a 2010 article written by Jay Beilis, Jeremy Simcha Garber and Mark S. Stein that appeared in the Benjamin Cardozo Law School review, DeNovo.

The Malamud plot involves the character Yakov Bok, accused of murder in Kiev in the same time period in which the real Beilis case unfolded. As part of the revised Beilis memoir, the editors include numerous instances of what they allege is plagiarism by Malamud.

“For most of the items we have listed, Malamud’s only possible source was Beilis’s memoir, in English or Yiddish. The frequent identity of language between ‘The Fixer’ and ‘The Story of My Sufferings’ suggests that Malamud used the English, not the Yiddish, edition,” the book claims.

The authors concede that for details that came out in trial, “Malamud could have had some source other than Beilis’s memoir, or some source in addition to Beilis’s memoir.”

In Malamud’s fictional account, the character Bok had some unsavory character traits. The real-life Beilis, on the other hand, was described as a hard-working, upstanding family man. “It infuriated the Beilis family” that because of the ‘Fixer’ novel and movie, the real Beilis and the fictional Bok might be equated in the public’s mind.”

The revised Beilis memoir lists what it argues are numerous comparisons between the original Beilis text and that of Malamud, showing strong similiarities, and what at times would seem to be nearly verbatim duplication.

“To plagiarize, according to the conventional definition, is to copy without attribution. Under this definition, Malamud plagiarized extensively from Beilis’s memoir in writing ‘The Fixer.’ He copied a large amount of verbatim dialogue, verbatim descriptions, states of mind, and events. He failed to credit Beilis’s memoir in any way,” the editors state.

In his book, “Bernard Malamud, A Writer’s Life,” biographer Philip Davis cites a statement by Malamud saying he had used “some of Beilis’s experience, but that the ‘The Fixer’ was fiction.”

Davis writes “there is no doubt” that Malamud “drew heavily” on the facts of the Beilis story. Davis notes that David Beilis, and his son Jay, “quite properly” noted “close verbal parallels” between Malamud’s work and Mendel Beilis’s words.

Davis also writes that Malamud used facts that suited his fiction, but that the novelist was correct in stating that his work was “art, not case history.” Wrote Davis: “When it mattered most, his [Malamud’s] sentences offered a different dimension and a deeper emotion.”

The new version of Beilis’s memoir has as one of its goals the creation of a wall separating the fact from the fiction. “I hope that some of the confusion created by Malamud will disappear with the publication of this book on the life and memory of Mendel Beilis,” Jay Beilis wrote in his afterward to the revised memoir.

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