The Fixer by Bernard Malamud is set in tsarist Russia amid the turmoil of a violent outbreak of anti-Semitism. The novel tells Yakov Bok’s story - how a harmless Jewish handyman is blamed for the sadistic murder of a Russian youth. After being ostracized by the community, Bok leaves his village for the first time in his life to go seek a way to make a living in Kiev. To be able to get a job, he must deny his Jewish heritage. Then, ironically, he finds himself working for a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds Society.
When a boy is found lifeless in the cave with almost all of his blood drained away, the Jews are accused of murdering him in some ritual sacrifice. Bok is then arrested and thrown in prison where, despite the guards' encouragement, he will not confess to a crime that he had nothing to do with. While in prison, Yakov is helped by a Gentile who risks his own life to help him. When Yakov must walk through the street on the way to his trial, he is a chained man but not a broken one. Along the road, some people wave at him and a few even shout his name; it is amazing to realize what courage this would take in those circumstances. It is the least and at the same time the most that they can do. To Yakov, those few shouts are precious, for it means he is one of them.
The plotting and pacing of the novel is excellent. The characters are all well-written, but Yakov is a masterpiece character, the kind you cry for at the end of the story. The settings are very important in conveying feeling of oppression. The dialogue indicates the world-weary attitude of the people of Kiev. If you like historical novels, you will love The Fixer. It is in fact a classic.