Writing without history has been epidemic for some time now. Saying it's bad is, well, obvious. I can't imagine not reading it again. Once it was taken away from her it forced the only cry from her fragile body. She is not painted merely as a sympathetic victim: she is a much more complex and full realized character, well-drawn by Ozick in these few pages.
Ozick has also had pieces on The Portrait of a Lady and , as well as a fictional account of a visit from a Muscovite cousin published in her regular outlets, the New York Times Book Review , the New York Times Magazine , and the New Yorker. It was fat with air, full and round. It's a very strange American amnesiac development to put all experience in the present tense, without memory, or history, or a past. Rosa believed that something had gone wrong with her vocal cords, with her windpipe with the cave of her larynx; Magda was defective, without a voice; perhaps she was deaf; there might be something amiss with her intelligence; Magda was dumb. The shawl also physically keeps Magda alive. Yet, if the voice is poetry, the words are prophecy. The second story, Rosa, is about the mother from the first story, decades after the Holocaust has ended.
Her recent return to the essay and to prose fiction marks yet another beginning for Ozick, and the product is as fresh as the work of a young experimental novelist. It was not unusual for them to put in a fourteen-hour day at the drugstore, often closing the store at one in the morning. Readers sympathizing with any of the three characters end the story feeling loss and sorrow. It is brutal, horrible, and sad, a very short story packing a big punch. Cynthia Ozick is a premier short story writer and novelist in this country. For everything, there's a bad way of describing, also a good way.
The sunheat murmured of another life, of butterflies in summer. But she was jealous of Magda. The story then zooms forward about 50 years when Rosa is now in America and trying to live a pseudo normal life. She lived that long, but she did not walk very well, partly because she was only fifteen months old, and partly because the spindles of her legs could not hold up her fat belly. When little girl did not find her treasure she went howling for it, and thus was noticed by Nazi soldier.
There was not enough milk; sometimes Magda sucked air; then she screamed. A peculiar smell, of cinnamon and almonds, lifted out of her mouth. So, they must be referred to Nazis. In an essay you have the outcome in your pocket before you set out on your journey, and very rarely do you make an intellectual or psychological discovery. It is not clear, however, that she did in fact abandon la vraie vie, as Proust puts it, for, at the age of twenty-four, in 1952, she married Bernard Hallote.
I am very much an outsider to this technology, indifferent to it. All at once Magda was swimming through the air. You will feel the all-engulfing love of a mother for her child. The light tapped the helmet and sparkled it into a goblet. I read each line in tense, avid awe, my chest hurting with each sentence. Magda had never seen anyone laugh. But Rosa was late, Magda was already near the electrified fence.
She certainly would not be taken as a role model in either of the worlds to which she clings: the legal profession and the Jewish community, writ large. I'm going to read this novella again this weekend. Le voci lamentose facevano vibrare le corde con tanta convinzione, con tanta passione, che era impossibile sospettare che fossero fantasmi. I may be naive or old-fashioned, or a strong combination of both, but it seems to me that the promotional aspect of writing, though it may certainly affect the writer, doesn't belong to the writer. The face, ve r y round, a pocket mirror of a face: but it was not Rosa's bleak complex bundle at a stranger, would the woman take it? The companion tale appeared in the same magazine three years later. Rosa knew Magda was going to die very soon; she should have been dead already, but she had been buried away deep inside the magic shawl, mistaken there for the shivering mound of Rosa's breasts; Rosa clung to the shawl as if it covered only herself. It isn't any surprise that this damaged old woman is unbinding her few tenuous ties to life there in Hell's Boiler Room.
Then there is the unfailing Old World politeness, the refinement of language, and a bright eagerness in the voice to share her thoughts, to hold nothing back. Eliot, Anthony Trollope, and Isaac Babel, was published in 1996. In some way I wish I could take on the influence of Saul Bellow, but I'm not lucky enough. The Shawl and Rosa, published together in one volume, each won awards for best American fiction or short story the year they were published. The shawl is a source of companionship for her as well. The whole of Magda travelled through loftiness.