Sunday, May 10, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 19: "The German Refugee" by Bernard Malamud

Back in December of last year, Katherine (of The Writerly Reader) and Dale (of Mirror with Clouds) both recommended that I read "The German Refugee" by Bernard Malamud. This story can be found in The Best American Stories 1964. So I assigned it to the 2 of spades, and this week, the story's number came up, as it were.


And what a powerful and affecting story it was! The plot is relatively simple. The story takes place in the years before World War II. Martin Goldberg, a college student in New York, earns money by teaching English to European refugees who have fled from Hitler. He earns a dollar an hour, and his clients in this endeavor, oddly enough, are world-famous economists, historians, and film stars. They just need some help with their English.

One of Martin's students is Oskar Gassner, a critic and journalist recently emigrated from Berlin. He left his wife behind because he fears she is a Nazi sympathizer. So he's all alone in New York, with a new job as a lecturer at the Institute for Public Studies. He can communicate in English, but he's nowhere near fluent enough in it to be a lecturer. So this is where Martin comes in, and Martin soon realizes that not only does Oskar need English tutoring, but he needs confidence-building. He's demoralized by everything that has brought him to this moment, and Martin's job is to help him through his lecture-writing block. If I were to boil this story down to its simplest elements, it is essentially a Pygmalion story. By hard work and support and friendship, he produces a beautiful work of art in the Oskar who finally writes a masterful lecture and delivers it to the Institute in almost flawless English.

Even though the plot is somewhat predictable, Malamud does an incredible job of making the characters of Oskar and Martin living, breathing souls that you immediately care about. And there's a dark undercurrent to the story as well, which gives a kind of twist at the end. So it's not entirely predictable. But I'm not going to tell you how it ends. You really should get a copy of this excellent story and read it for yourself. The story was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, and is available on their website here. I promise, it's well worth your time!

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. I can't wait until I draw this story!

    1. That's right! This is on your list too. Well, I can't wait until you draw it, either, so I can see what you thought about it! :-)