THE MESSIAH OF STOCKHOLM by Cynthia Ozick

THE MESSIAH OF STOCKHOLM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The idea behind Ozick's short allegory is electric, arcing across the spaces between literature and salvation--but at such curt length, and so jammed, that the execution is staticky. Lars Andemening is the third-string book reviewer (the one who does "serious" books by European writers no one has much heard of) on an itself less-than-leading Stockholm daily. Divorced twice, Lars doesn't especially care about his lack of status, though; in private he has something more nourishing, i.e., the absolute conviction that he is the son of the Jewish Polish genius Bruno Schulz, tragically killed in the streets of his small Polish town by the S.S. So intent is he on seeing through his putative father's eyes that Lars has arranged to learn Polish so he can savor in the original the two extant short collections Schulz left. . .and dream in fidelity at least about the "lost" last work, The Messiah. Then one day Lars gets a message--from an old woman, a bookseller who's been his chief confidante concerning his self-assumed identity--that his sister is in Stockholm. He hates to believe that a sister even exists; and worse, when he meets the woman, she has brought along a manuscript stored in an amphora, claiming (as does the bookseller's husband, a Dr. Eklund, a shadowy expert in provenances) that it is The Messiah! Lars ultimately and violently does far worse than reject the woman and the manuscript. . .which is at about the point when a chill runs down a reader's spine: the title of the lost Schulz book in this context is no accident--and how will the imagination, when the time comes, react to real redemption? The most Jamesian of Ozick's very Master-imbued works, the novella's conceptual frame is clean, polished, and startling. Yet the actual prose is frantically busy; the dialogue is hyperbolic, tuned to an impossibly high, brassy pitch; and the allegory doesn't get enough space to insinuate, to slink in--it comes at you like a cuffing instead. Great fables, Schulz's themselves a prime example, at first wear a fake coat of innocence--yet Ozick seems not to have the patience for that: wanting the allegory to be morally indelible, it bursts toward us flood-like, and the result is smear. Challenging but twitchy work by one of our most remarkable stylists.
Pub Date: March 10th, 1987
ISBN: 0394756940
Page count: 141pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1987




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