Books: Fiddler

PASSIONS by ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER 312 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $8.95.

At the end of Chekhov's story Rothschild's Fiddle, a Russian wills his violin to a Jew. Afterward, writes Chekhov, Rothschild plays a melody "so passionately sad and full of grief that the listeners weep ... and force him to play it as many as ten times." In Passions, Isaac Bashevis Singer's new collection, all 20 tales recall the earlier story, with its Russian theme transmuted by vibrant Yiddish inflection.

To Singer adherents, the characters and settings are as familiar as repertory theater. Ancient Hasidic tales are informed with contemporary psychology and...

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