The Fixer (novel)

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The Fixer
First edition
Author Bernard Malamud
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication date
Media type Print
Preceded by Idiots First (1963)
Followed by Pictures of Fidelman (1969)

The Fixer is a novel by Bernard Malamud published in 1966 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction (his second)[1] and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[2]

The Fixer provides a fictionalized version of the Beilis case. Menahem Mendel Beilis was a Jew unjustly imprisoned in Tsarist Russia. The "Beilis trial" of 1913 caused an international uproar and Russia backed down in the face of world indignation.

The book was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name starring Alan Bates (Yakov Bok) who received an Oscar nomination.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is about Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman or "fixer". In 1911, while living in Kiev without official papers, Bok is arrested on suspicion of murder when a Christian boy is killed during Passover. Jailed without being officially charged and denied visitors or legal counsel, Bok is treated poorly and interrogated repeatedly in the hopes he will confess to killing the boy as part of a Jewish religious ritual. Among other things, he is asked about his political views, and replies that he is apolitical. Bok also tries to explain to his captors that though he was born Jewish, he is not a religious man. During his many months in prison, he has time to contemplate his sad life and human nature in general. Part of Bok's torment is the knowledge those who attempt to help him are subjected to harassment and/or arrest by the government. After his father-in-law bribes a guard to allow him to speak with Bok, the prison guard is arrested and incarcerated. Bok's main advocate and supporter, Investigating Magistrate Bibikov, is arrested on trumped-up charges after visiting Bok in prison. Bibikov is kept in solitary confinement until he eventually commits suicide. The only person permitted to visit Bok is his wife, who left him just before the novel began. She is only permitted to visit him because she promised to get him to sign a statement confessing to the murder of the Christian boy; ultimately Bok refuses to sign the statement because he did not commit the crime. It is during his wife's visit that he learns of his father-in-law's death and of his wife's child from her ex-lover. It is through his suffering Bok finally finds it in his heart to forgive his former wife and agrees to claim her bastard child as his own in order to help her regain respectability within the Jewish community.

In the last chapter of the novel, after spending over two years in prison, Bok is finally charged with an official crime and brought to trial. Only once he is charged is Bok finally permitted to obtain and speak with a lawyer. He is told by his lawyer that his case is only a symptom of a greater problem in Russia; if Bok had not been arrested for the murder, another Jew would have been. The lawyer also informs Bok there is great concern amidst the Jewish community that another great pogrom will happen. In the final scene of the novel, while on his way to court Bok has an imaginary dialogue with Tzar Nicholas II, blaming the Tzar for ruling over the most backward and regressive regime in Europe. It is during this final sequence of events that Bok's transport is attacked and at least one Cossack guard is maimed. Bok famously concludes "there is no such thing as an apolitical man, especially a Jew."

Plagiarism controversy[edit]

Descendants of Mendel Beilis have long argued that in writing The Fixer, Malamud plagiarized from the 1926 English edition of Beilis's memoir, The Story of My Sufferings. One of Beilis's sons made such claims in correspondence to Malamud when The Fixer was first published. A 2011 edition of Beilis's memoir, co-edited by one of his grandsons, claims to identify 35 instances of plagiarism by Malamud.[3]

Responding to the allegations of plagiarism made by Beilis's descendants, Malamud's biographer Philip Davis acknowledged "some close verbal parallels" between Beilis's memoir and Malamud's novel. Davis argued, however, "When it mattered most, [Malamud's] sentences offered a different dimension and a deeper emotion."[4]

Jewish Studies scholar Michael Tritt has characterized the relationship between Malamud's The Fixer and Beilis's The Story of My Sufferings as one of "indebtedness and innovation".[5]


The book was banned by the board of education of the Island Trees Union Free School District in New York, which was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1982.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

In the fifth season episode, "At The Codfish Ball", of Mad Men, Don Draper was shown reading the book. Though his wife insinuates that his interest in the book is only to appear more cultured to his visiting Canadian in-laws, Don suggests his interest in the book is genuine.


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  3. ^ Beilis, Mendel. Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis, ed. Jay Beilis et al. (2011)
  4. ^ Davis, Philip. Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life (2007), pp. 241–43
  5. ^ Tritt, Michael. "Mendel Beilis's The Story of My Sufferings and Malamud's The Fixer: A Study of Indebtedness and Innovation", Modern Jewish Studies 13, no. 4 (Summer, 2004), p. 70
  6. ^ "Island Trees Sch. Dist. v. Pico by Pico 457 U.S. 853 (1982)". Justia. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
Preceded by
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
The Eighth Day
Thornton Wilder