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Literature / The Fixer

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The Fixer is a 1966 novel by Bernard Malamud.

Yakov Bok is a "fixer", or rather, a handyman. He is also a Jew living in Ukraine in the early years of the 20th century, so he has to face the violent, government-sponsored anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia. Finding himself at loose ends after his adulterous wife left him, Yakov leaves his village for Kiev, looking for work. This is extremely dangerous since Russian state policy closely limits where Jews are allowed to live, but he goes anyway. He adopts the more Russian-sounding pseudonym "Yakov Dolgushev", but he still lacks papers that say he's not Jewish, and he has a Yiddish accent.

Yakov gets a huge break when he saves a very drunk man, one Nikolai Lebedev, who had passed out in the snow. Lebedev, who is a prosperous owner of a brick factory, hires Yakov to be manager of the factory. (Lebedev is a member of the rabidly anti-Semitic "Black Hundreds" group, but does not ask Yakov for his papers.) Things are going great...until an 11-year-old boy is murdered. Deranged anti-Semitic paranoia leads to people believing the boy was killed by Jews in a "blood libel" ritual murder. Yakov, who once encountered the boy in the factory yard and who is eventually sniffed out as a Jew by the factory workers, is arrested and charged with the boy's murder. The rest of the novel consists of Bok's extended suffering in jail.

Loosely based on the Real Life story of Menahem Beilis, who was charged with ritual murder by the tsarist government in 1913. Adapted into a 1968 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde, Elizabeth Hartman, and Ian Holm, and David Warner. No relation to trope The Fixer or television series The Fixer.


  • As You Know: A lot of chatter between Yakov and his father-in-law early in the book establishing that Yakov's wife cheated on him and left him.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: At one point Yakov has to chase off a hooligan boy who was throwing rocks in the factory yard. He reads a news story about the murder of a boy named Zhenia Golov and realizes to his horror that the murdered boy was the one throwing rocks in the yard.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: When Yakov sees Nikolai Lebedev pass out and fall down drunk in the snow, he is at first inclined to let him lie there and die of hypothermia since Yakov spotted the Black Hundreds pin on his coat. But instead he picks Nikolai up. This changes his life in a lot of ways, at first for the better and then for the much worse.
  • Hope Spot: Bibikov visits Yakov in jail, and reveals that he's basically solved the case—the mother's scumbag boyfriend and his criminal partners killed the boy for threatening to rat them out, and the mother knows and may have helped. He also says that he's going to get the fixer a lawyer and go to the press. Soon after Bibikov has been chucked into another cell on the fixer's block, and soon after that, he's hanging by his belt from the ceiling.
  • Imagine Spot: Many, especially as the time of Yakov's imprisonment stretches into years. At the very end of the novel, as he's being taken to court for his trial, Yakov has a daydream in which he executes the Tsar for his crimes.
  • Job Title: "The Fixer", basically a handyman.
  • Left Hanging: The novel ends with Yakov still facing trial, thinking about how it's impossible to be apolitical. (The Real Life Menahem Beilis was acquitted, and eventually emigrated to the United States.)
  • Miscarriage of Justice: A Jew falsely accused of ritual murder due to the intense anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia.
  • Never Suicide: Bibikov is the one investigator who wasn't a raging anti-Semite and who discovered the truth of the murder—the boy was killed by his criminal mother and her criminal boyfriend. He is imprisoned in a cell next to Yakov and then murdered, the crime staged to look like he hanged himself.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Yakov is about to have sex with Zina when he spots blood on her leg. He says "You are unclean!" and leaves.
  • Roman Clef: The Menahem Beilis case, in which a Jewish man was charged with ritual murder in a case that drew condemnation around the world. Malamud, while changing the name of the protagonist and other details, lifted some passages verbatim from Beilis's memoir, leading Beilis's family to sue him for plagiarism.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Lebedev's daughter Zina, who is in her late twenties, very good-looking, and very lonely. She throws herself at Yakov, and he nearly accepts until he sees from her blood that she is having her period. He leaves immediately.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Bibikov reflects on Russia's lack of progress, and associates it with serfdom.
    Bibikov: There's something cursed, it seems to me, about a country where men have owned other men as property. The stink of that corruption never escapes the soul, and it is the stink of future evil.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Most of the book is told from Yakov's third-person limited POV, but one chapter, a flashback where he's thinking about his marriage, is told by Yakov directly in first-person singular.
  • Stealing from the Till: Proshko is stealing bricks from Lebedev's brick factory and selling them himself. After Yakov is arrested, Proshko accuses him of doing this.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Gronfein, a Jewish counterfeiter who gets put in the same cell as Bok. He acts friendly with Bok within the cell, then tries to coax Bok into confessing. Bok didn't do it so he doesn't confess, and he's shocked soon after to be called to the warden's office and told that Gronfein informed on him and turned over the letters that Yakov gave him to send out.
    Yakov: You dirty stool pigeon!
  • Token Good Teammate: Bibikov of the police treats Yakov with respect, asking him about his interest in Spinoza and believing his story. The other members of the police are only too willing to accuse him of the ritual murder of a child.