Summary and book reviews of Heir To The Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick

Heir To The Glimmering World

By Cynthia Ozick

Heir To The Glimmering World
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2004,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2005,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter 1

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 3–14, 
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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. With the brisk pace of its plot, its plucky teenaged heroine, and its tidy, satisfying conclusion, Heir to the Glimmering World may be read as an update of the nineteenth-century novel. How does Ozick allow this old-fashioned literary style to resonate in a twentieth-century story? What ironies are present in Ozick's novel that would be absent from a Victorian novel? Heir to the Glimmering World ends in 1937; how does your knowledge of the world events of the next decade affect your perception of the ending?

  2. How do Rosie's actions differ from the actions of, for instance, a character from her beloved Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, and how might she behave differently if the story were to take place today?

  3. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (305 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Alice Munro
An irresistible read.  A trove of wonderfully imagined characters, brilliantly written - a dazzling performance.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
A cause for celebration in the world of literature.  Here we have a heroine to love, a story we can't let go of, gorgeous sentences, and ideas to wrestle with.  I didn't just read this book, I devoured it.

Publishers Weekly

Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Ozick brilliantly dramatizes the conflict between theology and science, various modes of mythmaking and survival, and the hot drive to dissent, to subvert, to fly from what all men accept! 

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Perhaps the fullest treatment yet of the European intellectual's flight from Hitler's Germany...one of Ozick's most interesting [works].

The New York Times - John Leonard

In her typically audacious new novel, Heir to the Glimmering World, Cynthia Ozick braids at least three and probably four ghostly glimmers and ''phantom eels'' of thought into a single luminous lariat -- or maybe a hangman's noose. 

The Washington Post - James Sallis

Valéry said that a work of art should always teach us that we have not seen what we see. That is a part of what young Rose Meadows comes to know as she emerges from the Mitwissers' life into her own. Living as we all do among unwise folk, nonetheless she also has lived for a time, and lived vividly, in a wise, quietly magical book. As have we readers.

Library Journal - Starr E. Smith

Though known mainly for short stories distinguished by graceful language, Ozick here demonstrates her facility as a novelist, successfully mixing themes of faith, identity, and art into a crazy salad of a plot set in New York City during the Great Depression....This witty book will appeal to admirers of the fanciful tales in Ozick's Puttermesser Papers and to readers seeking well-written novels with intellectual depth. Recommended for most collections. 

The Wall Street Journal - Merle Rubin

In language aglow with fierce wit and passionate intensity. . .[Ozick's book] has all the hallmarks of a permanent work of literature.

Newsday - James Marcus

A novel as scintillating as this one makes the world infinitely new.

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Beyond the Book

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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