A Day of Pleasure describes the author’s experience of a world that was beautiful but fleeting. The Warsaw ghetto, where Singer spent much of his boyhood, and the Polish towns of Radzymin and Bilgoray, where he also lived as a child, no longer exist as Singer knew them. The book is thus both a memoir of and a memorial to a once vital, colorful, and exciting way of life that was irretrievably lost to Nazi depredations during World War II. For Jews born in America and elsewhere since the war, the book affords more than a glimpse into those bygone times that their parents or grandparents once knew intimately. A Day of Pleasure is not only about a series of incidents and adventures of a young boy growing up in what now must appear as strange and exotic surroundings; it is about growing up itself, about the hopes, fears, aspirations, difficulties, disappointments, and encouragements that are all part of that process. It is also about the conflicts caused by a deeply religious upbringing-Singer’s father and maternal grandfather were both rabbis-and the appeals that secular intellectualism and art hold for a keen sensibility and intelligence seeking to develop and expand.
In spite of the specific time and place that Singer portrays, many readers can relate to the events and concerns that the book presents. Concrete details about the unfamiliar setting give his stories their realism. Furthermore, young Isaac shares with youthful American literary heroes-ranging from the title character of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Holden Caulfield of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye-a desire to learn as much as possible about the world and to make sense of it. Often that world appears baffling, as Isaac discovers when he squanders a present of money in the title story. But sometimes it can be, or can seem to be, logical and inspiring, as in “The Washwoman.” In this story, Isaac comes to the conviction that hard work and honesty count for something and are rewarded, both in this world and the next.