Thirty polished but thorny essays, most of which have appeared in Harper's, the New York Times Book Review, and the New Yorker. Generally less accessible than her novels (The Messiah of Stockholm, 1987; etc.) because of their presumption of familiarity with Jewish traditions, these pieces deal mostly with writers (Primo Levi, William Gaddis, Theodore Dreiser) and writing. Ozick's style in a majority of the pieces, moreover, can only be described as Talmudic, echoing with a determination to explain, convince, and instruct. However, in a brief "Forewarning," the author does issue a caveat that her ruminations are not to be viewed as expressing "a Weltanshauung"; they are, she insists, merely "an illumination." Among the more accessible essays is "A Short Note on 'Chekhovian,'" in which Ozick discusses the "inwardness" as well as the "solidity and precision" of the Russian master. Equally revelatory are her thoughts on "Henry James' Unborn Child," in which she sensitively explores the possible psychological sources of an evocative short story that James was unable--or unwilling--to complete. Ozick also considers such wide-ranging matters as the problems of translation and, in the title essay, metaphor as history. Here, Ozick's frame of reference leads her to controversial conclusions, as when she insists that translating from Yiddish to English is uniquely difficult because of the disparity between Jewish and Christian concepts (surely translating Japanese haiku must be at least as difficult). Stimulating forays into an original mind; but many, with just cause, will find these essays a frustrating exercise in hermeticism.