Wednesday, May 09, 2007

About the Messiah

It's been some time since I finished reading Cynthia Ozick's The Messiah of Stockholm, and I wanted to get a couple thoughts down before they vanish from my head entirely. The novel's starting point is the historical figure of Bruno Schulz, a Polish writer shot dead by a German officer in the Jewish ghetto of his hometown, whose entire literary oeuvre consists of 2 slim volumes of stories, and the rumour that Schulz had been working on novel a entitled The Messiah, any scraps of which may ever have existed being lost.

In Ozick's story, Lars Andemening, a book reviewer, believes himself to be Schulz's son, and the manuscript of The Messiah surfaces.

I'm in awe how neatly Ozick manages to capture Schulz's voice. There are passages so surreal and frenetic; there is no question that her characters and events are modelled after those in The Cinnamon Shops. Ozick does not sustain this tone, however, which is for the best. Ozick's story is not set in Schulz's Poland. Her Stockholm is culturally empty; Lars is depressed and cynical. Lars may take flights of fancy through his father's eye but he must always return to ground.

The revealing of the manuscript is anticlimactic. The telling of its contents is a disappointment; something so mythic is better off remaining a mystery. But in this way the reader feels very like Lars must've — let down.

The Messiah of Stockholm is short and weird, a booklover's book (used bookshop, old manuscript, a book reviewer, etc — better executed by far than the overhyped Shadow of the Wind), whether or not one is familiar with Schulz's books. (I'll be checking out the rest of Schulz's work soon, and some more of Ozick's too.)
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