1. Pages 29-31
Yakov hides in the Jewish Quarter of Kiev and carefully explores the city, looking for work. He even visits a Catholic mass and goes with other pilgrims into the Lavra catacombs, where saints are entombed. However, he cannot bring himself to kiss the relic of St. Andrew’s hand. Outside the catacombs, he sees three blind beggars. The one who apparently can read the gospels aloud, with “divine inspiration,” looks straight at Yakov. Yakov stares back.
While it is ironic that Yakov, who has turned a blind eye to his God, and a blind beggar, who has turned his blind—yet “seeing”—eye to God, should stare at one another, the moment is also ominous. The reach of the Christian world is wide. If even a blind Christian man can detect something unusual about Yakov, what of the Christians who are not blind? What will they see? Will they be blinded by their faith and see only a Jew?
2. Pages 31-41
Yakov longs to get out of the Jewish slum. He barely scrapes by there with work; he lives in a small room in a printer’s assistant’s apartment, where he sleeps on a bench. The assistant, Aaron Latke, assures Yakov that luck will come his way because he at least has “brains.” Yakov thus goes, skeptically, “looking for luck.”
One night he comes upon a drunken man face down in the snow. The man wears the button of the Black Hundreds on his coat, and Yakov thinks about passing him by without helping. However, the man’s daughter appears and begs him to help her return him home. She is crippled, and together she and Yakov carry the man home and put him to bed. When Yakov turns to leave, she tells him that her father, Nikolai Maximovitch Lebedev, will reward him. She asks Yakov to come back the next day for that reward.
Yakov debates taking a reward from a man who clearly hates Jews. But he considers, too, that the best revenge on such a person is to take his money to help a Jew survive. Besides, Yakov is desperate for money. He decides to return to the house the next morning.
The daughter, Zinaida Nikolaevna (Zina), escorts him to Nikolai’s room, where Yakov gives his name as “Yakov Ivanovitch Dologushev,” a good Russian name. Nikolai thanks Yakov for helping a fellow human being when so many would have simply walked by and let him die. He questions Yakov about where he comes from, his occupation, his knowledge of the Bible. Yakov replies that he likes the Psalms. Nikolai begins to read from the Sermon on the Mount, quoting scriptures about how the poor and the persecuted shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. He wants Yakov to know what sort of person he is, a very sensitive one, attuned to the sorrows of life.
Although he feels guilty for eating with an anti-Semitic man, Yakov drinks the tea offered and eats hungrily. Nikolai offers him the reward: work on an empty flat upstairs that needs painting and repapering to prepare it for a new tenant. Yakov would have preferred money, but he accepts the work. He wants to ask Nikolai how he can “ ‘cry for a dead dog yet belong to a society of fanatics that urges death on human beings who happen to be Jews,’” but of course he does not ask such a thing. Yakov does worry, however, that the man will ask for his passport, which identifies him as Jewish, but the man never does.
In an ironic twist on the good Samaritan story from the Bible, Yakov performs a good deed for a man and his daughter, regardless of their faith and affiliations. He feels that he has taken his fate into his own hands, that he has indeed gone out and found “luck.” Certainly, he has found a reward for good deeds. However, the fact that Nikolai can spout Christian doctrine yet belong to the Black Hundreds should be a red flag to Yakov. Yakov acted as one human might to another. But does Nikolai possess the same humanity? Is Yakov’s act a means of finding luck, or has it brought him quite the opposite?
Yakov diligently works on the rooms, doing a job that pleases Nikolai. Zina sends up lunches for him. One night, while Yakov is working late, Zina invites him to eat supper with her. Yakov refuses, but when she asks again on the next evening, he agrees. They eat together in the kitchen; Nikolai is already gone to bed, and the servant has been dismissed. Zina speaks about her lonely life and casts glances at Yakov. She says she can sense that he is different, more “‘intelligent and genteel’” than other working men. She talks about how, despite her disability, she has had suitors, but she has never found a man who was “sensitive or worthy.”
When Yakov is finished with the room, Nikolai inspects his work and pronounces it wonderful. He says he would like Yakov to work in a brickyard he has inherited, overseeing the accounts and the overseer, Proshko. He suspects that Proshko and the other workers are cheating him. He will give Yakov a comfortable, furnished apartment above the stables at the yard and pay him forty-five rubles a month. Yakov is to keep up with orders, monitor the number of bricks shipped out, send out invoices, and take payments. Again, Yakob debates taking a job from a Jew hater, but he decides this is a chance to better himself and he must take it.
That night, as Yakov cleans up the rooms where he has worked, Zina invites him to celebrate his new job. She gives him a feast and plies him with wine. She, too, drinks quite a bit, and she asks Yakov if he might love her. Yakov says no, he does not. She taunts him to kiss her, and he does, and soon the two end up in her bedroom. Yakov asks her if she is a virgin—he has no wish to make a mistake, like he did in choosing Raisl, nor does he wish to ruin her innocence. Zina hints that she is not innocent, that she has been able to lose that innocence because her father’s drunkenness keeps him unaware.
Zina sends Yakov to her bathroom to undress, but in there he looks at himself in the mirror. He realizes that he is making a serious mistake and goes out to tell Zina he will not sleep with her. He finds her naked and washing herself because she is menstruating. Yakov is horrified and tells her she is “unclean.” He says he cannot possibly lie with a woman in that condition and he thinks of Raisl, who was so modest during her “time.” Yakov ignores Zina’s protests, dresses, and leaves her.
Yakov at last seems to be controlling his fate. He has earned a new job through the merits of his handiwork on the apartment. His honest declaration that he is not a political man, that all he cares about is doing a good job, earns him Nikolai’s respect. Maybe, just maybe, he can succeed despite the fact that he is Jewish. Yakov even feels he is taking events into his own hands when he stops himself from having sex with Zina. Unlike with his marriage to Raisl, he believes, he is controlling his life.
3. Pages 53-69
After only two days working as supervisor of the brickyard, Yakov discovers that the foreman, Proshko, and other workers are indeed cheating Nikolai by holding back bricks that they sell themselves. When Yakov confronts Proshko, however, Proshko denies holding back bricks. He also asks Yakov for his work papers, which are supposed to be registered with the district police. Yakov, who knows that his papers reveal that he is Jewish, tells Proshko that Nilolai took care of it. From then on, Yakov does his job well, but nervously, and he makes many enemies in the yard. Proshko spreads stories about him to others.
Yakov, without a friend, reads at night in an effort to educate and improve himself. He buys books, studies Russian grammar and history, reads Russian newspapers, buys and studies the Life of Spinoza. What alarms Yakov most about learning of Russian history is the violence Russians have committed against other Russians. From Spinoza, Yakov gains a view of God as having “closed up his shop and become an idea.” Yakov also takes to writing essays about social problems he reads about, but he burns these.
He is troubled by the fact that he no longer works as a fixer and that his tools sit idle. Zina writes to him, inviting him to call on her, but he ignores her letter. Yakov visits a counterfeiter to find out what it costs to have a fake passport and residence certificate made. He contemplates doing this.
Yakov grows more and more nervous. One evening, after he chases two young boys away for breaking bricks and harassing the stable horses, he notices that Skobeliev, the yardkeeper, and Proshko have been watching his actions. The next day, a policeman comes to the brickyard inquiring whether anyone there is “suspected of political unreliability.” This incident makes Yakov so nervous he cannot sleep well and has nightmares. He at last orders his fake papers to be made, and this makes him feel more secure. In a period of contentment, he buys things like tobacco, shoes, paper, and a jar of strawberry jam. He also buys some flour with which to make bread. He then returns to being frugal again.
One evening in April, Yakov comes upon an old Jewish man being beaten by some boys. He chases off the boys and takes the old man, a Hasid, to his apartment, where he cleans up the man’s blood with an old shirt and offers him food. The man refuses food because it is Passover, which both surprises and moves Yakov. Yakov’s plan to sneak the man out of his apartment is soon foiled by heavy snowfall during the night. Yakov plans to take him out before daylight, but the man insists on doing his prayer rituals first; by the time he finishes, it is daylight. After Yakov leads the man away, he discovers that someone has been searching his apartment while he was out.
The next day, news spreads that a Christian boy, Zhenia Golov, has been found murdered by stabbing and drained of blood in a cave nearby. Yakov realizes that Zhenia is one of the vandals he has chased from the brickyard. Leaflets accusing the Jews of the murder circulate. Yakov hurries to pick up his fake papers but finds the building burned down. When he returns to the stable, intending to flee Russia, he is arrested by the Secret Police. “The fixer readily confessed he was a Jew. Otherwise, he was innocent.”
Yakov once again plays the good Samaritan, this time to a Jewish man. Yakov’s good deeds, his honesty, and his efforts at self-improvement speak much about the sort of man he is: a man whose deeds should better his life. Ironically, his act of good will toward the Jewish man has likely been his undoing.