Friday, November 09, 2012

Cynthia Ozick

On a whim, I picked up Cynthia Ozick's Messiah of Stockholm earlier in the week. I wasn't sure what to expect from Ozick, but having finished the book, I can safely say: she knows what she talking about. 

This short little novel charts the ruminations of the Polish refugee Lars Andemening, who has convinced himself that he's the orphaned son of the great Jewish writer Bruno Schulz. 

Andemening, who has settled in Sweden, has little evidence of his ancestry, save a sense that he has inherited from Schulz an eye for literature and a sensitivity to the past.  

Half way through the novel, Andemening encounters his double: a woman posing as the daughter of Schulz. Adela (as she's called) is thus the sister of Lars. 

As the two debate their relationship to - and with - Schulz, Ozick effectively transforms their dialogue into a larger discussion of literary criticism: that is, Lars and Adela, in their unyielding loyalty to Schulz, claim ownership to his legacy. On the surface, they engage in a battle for their father; below, they wage an intellectual war for the most insightful (and impassioned) criticism. 

It would be giving away too much to reveal which character lays final claim to Schulz; and it would be equally too much to say where Adela comes from and where, in the end, she retreats. 

What I can say, though, is that Ozick, in just 150 pages, has crafted a smart novel about what it was to be a refugee in the wake of German atrocities, and what it takes to reclaim one's ancestry - one page, one sliver of forgotten manuscript, at a time.

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