Bernard Malamud, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and two-time recipient of the National Book Award, died yesterday, apparently of natural causes, at his New York apartment. He was 71.
One of a group of Jewish-American authors, including Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, whose work has focused on the Jew as outsider in society, Malamud once wrote that "All men are Jews" -- that is, all men are solitary.
His protagonists often represent a kind of Jewish Common Man -- a laborer, perhaps a small shopowner, rarely successful but acutely, inchoately sensitive to beauty and injustice -- but he quarreled with the label "Jewish writer," saying it diminished his creations.
Born April 26, 1914, Malamud, the son of Yiddish-speaking Russian immigrants who owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, became interested in language after a childhood bout with pneumonia.
His father bought him a 20-volume Book of Knowledge to while away his convalescence; and he developed his storytelling technique by reworking for his friends the plots of current movies "to save them a dime."
He was also fascinated by his father's stories of Czarist Russia, an era he evoked so lucidly in the 1966 novel "The Fixer" that it brought him the Pulitzer and his second National Book Award (the first, in 1959, was presented for a short story collection, "The Magic Barrel").
"The Fixer," his fictionalized account of the murder trial of Mendel Beiliss, who was accused of the ritual murder of a 13-year-old boy, was made into a film starring Alan Bates.
His very first novel, "The Natural," published in 1952, belatedly became one of his best known after the release of the 1984 film version starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close. Ironically, though, the film version transformed Malamud's darkly critical parable about the corrupting power of the American dream into a sunny fantasy in which the sinned-against Redford is saved by the grace of true love.
Like Roth, Bellow and Yiddish fablist Isaac Bashevis Singer, Malamud was preoccupied with the role of the Jewish author as creator. In his 1971 novel "The Tenants," a Jewish writer who has been struggling for a decade to finish his third novel becomes intellectually entangled with a black revolutionary who is struggling to perfect his own manifesto; the two ultimately die, drowned in their own words.
The protagonist of his 1979 novel, "Dubin's Lives," is also a writer, but this time a biographer, whose profession turns him into a kind of voyeur. His last novel, "God's Grace," published in 1982, turns the protagonist into perhaps the broadest re-creator of all: The only survivor of a thermonuclear apocalypse, he mates with a female chimpanzee named Mary Madelyn and founds a whole new evolutionary Eden.
Other books by Malamud include "A New Life," 1961; "Pictures of Fidelman," 1969; "The Assistant," 1957; and the short story collections "Idiots First," 1963, and "Rembrandt's Hat," 1973.
The author was also a teacher, spending the years 1940 to 1949 teaching English in New York City high schools, and had been a member of the faculty of Bennington College since 1961.
He is survived by Ann de Chiara, his wife since 1945; a son, Paul, and a daughter, Janna.