Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: "Heir to the Glimmering World"

If you've never read something by Cynthia Ozick, then you're seriously missing out. My first encounter with Ozick was in the last class of my last year of my undergraduate career -- American-Jewish Fiction with one of my favorite professors who I wrote about recently because he passed away. In that class, we read Ozick's The Shawl, which offered a portrait of the survivor's mentality and subsequent destruction therein. It is an incredibly short read, but an incredibly powerful read that will have you in tears.

When I was back in Nebraska last month, I picked up a ton of delicious used books at A Novel Idea, and one of them happened to be a Cynthia Ozick book I was neither familiar with nor had read -- Heir to the Glimmering World. I'm happy to say that this is one of those books that's incredibly hard to put down, and since it was my bedside table, pre-bed book, it made it hard to get through.

The narrative features Rosie, an 18-year-old whose father's curious past leaves her in an interesting place when he passes. She ends up living with her "cousin" Bertram, but when he takes up with a radical named Ninel (Lenin backwards!), Rosie is off to new frontiers, which leads her to the home of a family of refugees. The bulk of the book takes place in the 1930s when Rosie is in the home of the Mitwissers in The Bronx, where she is something of an assistant to the elder Mitwisser, a once-prized professor in the old country. The family has been affected in strange ways by the changes in Germany in the 1930s, and each of the family members handles things differently. Having been of the German elite, the family now relies on their benefactor, James A'Bair, who has his own strange, obscure background that left him "in the money." Rosie plays a greater role in the family than she can ever imagine, and Heir to the Glimmering World, and the book is unexpected in where it begins and where it ends.

I was incredibly pleased with this book, and it definitely had Ozick's balance of light and darkness in storytelling. The glimpses of hope and despair are so perfectly balanced, and unlike so many stories of refugees from the 1930s and 1940s from Europe, this story doesn't follow the typical trend. Judaism doesn't play a major role in the book, despite the elder Mitwisser being an aficionado on the Karaites.

Ultimately, this is a book about crushed dreams, new realities, a loss of security, and moving on with life when you lose everything and have to start fresh. It was a truly powerful read, and I highly recommend it!