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This is the first author in our alphabetical march through the Nobel Literary Prize winners. I had never even heard of Shmuel Agnon before I read this book. I think he won the prize in 1966, but this novel was written in 1935.Its set in a Jewish Polish town thats being pulled by different forces: the Kaiser, socialists, Zionists. But all of those forces are just background to the love story that moves the plot. I put love story in quotation marks because I think its actually an anti-love story in some ways.The story begins with a character named Blume Nacht, a young woman who loses both of her parents. Neighbors put her on a train for another town where she has relatives who might take her in. The relatives, the Hurvitzes, do take her in, but she becomes their servant instead of their equal. The Hurvitzs son Hirshl falls in love with Blume, and Blume falls in love with him. To stave off this misfortune, Hirshls parents arrange a marriage for their son with a successful businessman. Blume runs away and gets a job as a maidservant for another family, and Hirshl marries Mina. All of this happens fairly early in the novel, so you wonder whats going to fill the extra 150 pages.I wont ruin it, but I found it fascinating because the novel meanders here and there among different characters in the town. You keep expecting one thing to happen but then something quite different happens, but its not constructed like the modern page-turner, which keeps you turning pages to see if youre right (and you always are). The pacing is slow and patient, and in the end, you realize that he has written the story not like a novel but like life itself.Theres some interesting symbolism, especially with the candles at the wedding. The bride and groom are both thin and pale like the candles that surround them under the bridal canopy. Theres something deathly about the whiteness and the fragility of the flames. The groom wonders if one of the candles might go out and what that would mean for his future. He recalls a tale he once heard about how candles are used in some cultures to determine which party gets the assets during a divorce. Later, he wishes the candles had been red instead of white.Two of my favorite characters are Getzel and his sister the hunchback. The hunchback never gets a proper name, but shes a wonderful character, and I wanted to know more about Getzel. On the last page, Agnon promises another book about Getzel, but as far as I can tell, he never wrote one.Heres one wonderful quote: A greater Father than Hirshl, however, had other ideas. As much as Hirshl tried not looking at the child, as much as he tried not even thinking of it, tender feelings for it began to creep into his heart. Before long he was hugging and kissing the same infant he had been certain he could never love. Whereas only yesterday he had grimly told himself, Well, I have to put up with him because Im to blame that hes alive, his own life now seemed to him to exist solely for the sake of his son. (So God in heaven plays the father with us. As busy as He is making and unmaking cosmoses, He still finds time even for a small-town storekeeper, even--just as Hirshl did--for a baby in a cradle.)On to B!

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