Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
era tu re o f France. It is to her house (now become a museum) that
Jo seph is drawn in his “ro u nd abou t way.” From the very
beginning, Joseph is torn between two worlds, between two cul­
tures: Jewish life, represented by his rabbi and family, and west­
ern civilization, represented by Madame de Sevigne.
A great deal o f foreshadowing takes place in the early pages of
the novel. Not only is Madame de Sevigne a writer like Hester
Lilt, but she is overwhelmed by an obsessive passion for her
daughter, as Hester Lilt will prove to be. Jus t as “Madame de
Sevigne’s unreasonable passion for her undistinguished daugh ­
ter had turned her prose into high culture and historic treasure”
(p. 9), so, too, Hester Lilt’s brilliant prose will be in terpre ted by
Brill as having at its base a similar passion for her own daughter.
In fact, the novel’s emblem reveals itself to be Brill’s obsessive
efforts to decode both art and reality. Another foreshadowing
event in the novel’s exposition concerns a statue o f Rachel which
he finds in the museum of his roundabout way. Naively, he thinks
it is a statue o f Rachel the Jewish matriarch; in reality, he learns
later in an illuminating discovery, it is o f another Jewess, the
19th-century French tragedienne Rachel, who, in her in terp re ta­
tion o f neo-classical French culture, brought it back to life for the
French. Misinterpretation and “discovery” are the stuff o f which
Greek literature is made. Ozick engages Jewish themes with this
device.
An even more significant foreshadowing occurs when Joseph
encounters Claude, a quintessential French aesthete, the novel’s
most pure representative o f Greek culture, a Louvre incarnate.
At one point, Claude takes Joseph to hear an old writer read from
a work in progress. The portion recorded by Ozick turns out to
be, in miniature, a casting o f Joseph’s later life as school principal,
in a world where children are not seen as growing old. This “inte­
rior reduplication” o f the later plot is — it must be pointed out —
a Gentile casting o f Joseph’s life. It leaves out the crucial Jewish
side and the even more crucial struggle and accommodation be­
tween the two ways.
YEARS OF SEARCHING
Struggle and accommodation are the twin forces o f Joseph ’s
Holocaust years. But it is not with ho rro r and terro r that he
struggles; it is with books. To his convent cellar he has taken with