Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

‘We are more than nothing and deserve better’

  • Print

MANY of the problems and predicaments we find ourselves facing in life are the result of the simple fact that, as individuals or as members of a group, we are not as free as we sometimes think we are.

This oppression may not be so much a problem — a problem, after all, implies there is a solution — as it is a condition of life that we all have to live with, but that does not mean there are not ways to deal with it.

In his 1966 novel The Fixer, Bernard Malamud gives us a hint of how to do that. Malamud was the best of an extraordinary group of Jewish novelists who burst onto the American and international literary scene in the 1960s.

The Fixer was one of his early novels and perhaps his finest. It tells the story of a Russian Jew accused of the ritual murder of a Christian baby in the dying years of the czarist empire. Yakov Bok spends years in jail as the authorities try to force him to confess to a crime he did not commit. There is no evidence against him except for the fact that he is a Jew, and the fact that he is a Jew is good enough for a government attempting to appease a public outraged over the murder.

He refuses to confess, even under torture, even, as years pass and his case becomes a public issue, refusing a pardon on the grounds that he is innocent. He demands a trial. The Investigating Magistrate for Cases of Extraordinary Importance, Bibikov, who is the only person who cares that Yakov might actually be innocent, at one point asks him out of frustration: "What are you?" To which Yakov Bok replies: "I am a man who, although nothing much, is still more than nothing."

That is the message Malamud offers us about freedom, about dignity, about fighting the oppressions life offers us in their greater and lesser forms. No matter how insignificant we may seem, even how irrelevant we may be in the grand scheme of things, we are still something and, when we assert that, we defy our oppressors in whatever forms they might take — disadvantage, desolation, deprivation, disease, despair or any other D-word you can think of.

Yakov Bok’s response to Bibikov’s question seems extraordinary, given his plight and the conditions of his imprisonment, but it is not really — or at least it should not be. "I am more than nothing" are words everyone should wake up thinking and live each day believing. Perhaps if we could all do that — call me Pollyanna if it pleases you — we would all have lives that are a little better or at least a little more dignified.

Native Canadians in places such as Attawapiskat First Nation and other isolated reserves, who live in a poverty so desperate that no one, neither their band councils nor the federal government, seems to be able to explain it, should say "we are more than nothing and we demand better than this."

Core area kids who grow up in poverty and deprivation should turn from gangs that can offer them so little and tell their parents and the system and the people — that’s us — "we are more than nothing and we deserve better than this."

Even suburbanites, the middle-class, middle-income, middle-waisted hired help who wander off to work each day to their endless and unappreciated treadmills of tedium, should stand up and say "we are more than nothing, and we will stand with everybody else in demanding acknowledgement of that." If we all say it, shout it and believe it, then perhaps we can alleviate the injustices of life. That’s only a perhaps, of course. The Fixer ends with Yakov Bok getting the trial he demanded. Malamud doesn’t tell us anything about the verdict.

 

tom.oleson@freepress.mb.ca

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on a report that shows violent crime is decreasing in Winnipeg?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google