Cynthia Ozick is an American master at the height of her powers in Heir to the Glimmering World, a grand romantic novel of desire, fame, fanaticism, and unimaginable reversals of fortune. Ozick takes us to the outskirts of the Bronx in the 1930s, as New York fills with Europe's ousted dreamers, turned overnight into refugees. Rose Meadows unknowingly enters this world when she answers an ambiguous want ad for an "assistant" to a Herr Mitwisser, the patriarch of a large, chaotic household. Rosie, orphaned at eighteen, has been living with her distant relative Bertram, who sparks her first erotic desires. But just as he begins to return her affection, his lover, a radical socialist named Ninel (Lenin spelled backward), turns her out. And so Rosie takes refuge from love among refugees of world upheaval.
Cast out from Berlin's elite, the Mitwissers live at the whim of a mysterious benefactor, James A'Bair. Professor Mitwisser is a terrifying figure, obsessed with his arcane research. His distraught wife, Elsa, once a prominent physicist, is becoming unhinged. Their willful sixteen-year-old daughter runs the household: the exquisite, enigmatic Anneliese. Rosie's place here is uncertain, and she finds her fate hanging on the arrival of James. Inspired by the real Christopher Robin, James is the Bear Boy, the son of a famous children's author who recreated James as the fanciful subject of his books. Also a kind of refugee, James runs from his own fame, a boy adored by the world but grown into a bitter man. It is Anneliese's fierce longing that draws James back to this troubled house, and it is Rosie who must help them all resist James's reckless orbit. Ozick lovingly evokes these perpetual outsiders thrown together by surprising chance. The hard times they inherit still hold glimmers of past hopes and future dreams. Heir to the Glimmering World is a generous delight.
In 1935, when I was just eighteen, I entered the household of Rudolf Mitwisser, the scholar of Karaism. "The scholar of Karaism" at that time I had no idea what that meant, or why it should be "the" instead of "a," or who Rudolf Mitwisser was. I understood only that he was the father of what seemed to be numerous children, and that he had come from Germany two years before. I knew these things from an advertisement in the Albany Star:
Professor, arrived 1933 Berlin, children 314,
requires assistant, relocate NYC. Respond
Mitwisser, 22 Westerley.
It read like a telegram; Professor Mitwisser, I would soon learn, was parsimonious. The ad did not mention Elsa, his wife. Possibly he had forgotten about her.
In my letter of reply I said that I would be willing to go to New York, though it was not clear from the notice in the Star what sort of assistance was needed. Since the ad had included the age of a very young child, was it a nanny that...
This isn't a book to read for the plot so much as for the thoughts that it generates.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (305 words).
Cynthia Ozick was born in Manhattan and has lived in the New York City area most
of her life. She is acclaimed for her many works of fiction and criticism
including The Puttermesser Papers and Quarrel & Quandary.
Related Link: In an interview at BookBrowse, Ozick says that the character of James A'Bair was inspired by (but not modeled on) Christopher Milne, son of A.A. Milne. Christopher Milne spent much of his life trying to escape his father's shadow and the legacy of being forever seen as the little boy, Christopher Robin. For a biography of Christopher Milne see: http://www.pooh-corner.org/christopher.shtml.
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