Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
ambivalent conclusion. Initially, he is unable authentically to
hear the shofar’s call or to become covenanted because he has
substituted text for history. For example, he complains to Heidi
that the woman from whom he takes Polish lessons in order
to read his “father’s” manuscript in the original, does not believe
in him. This prompts Heidi to respond, “Believe in you! What
are you, a priest, a holy man?” Moreover, Lars is variously de­
scribed as throwing himself on the altar of literature, and of
worshipping the text. He thinks about the bogus manuscript
that “He ought to have been on his knees to it.”
Heidi, for her part, insisting on the primacy of historical fact,
represents Ozick’s own voice. Unlike Lars who is interested in
Schulz’s lost manuscript, Heidi emphasizes the historical event
of his murder; “Black Thursday,” “The hunt for Jews in the
streets,” “The wild action.” Specifically, Heidi admonishes Lars:
“Nouns and verbs! You think that’s what it’s about, nouns and
verbs? Sentences! Subjects! Predicates! Pieces of paper!” Like
the nameless survivor in
Trust
and
The Cannibal Galaxy's
Hester
Lilt, Heidi is rooted in Jewish history. For example, a self­
described refugee, she tells Lars of aiding prisoners by having
thrown scraps of food over a death camp fence. But Lars be­
lieves that Heidi herself was behind that fence. She told her
tales with “a votive memory.” Lars “supposed she was one of
them, but hidden — one of the shadows inside.”
Lars, who is fond of citing Schulz’s aphorism “Reality is as
thin as paper and betrays with all its cracks its imitative char­
acter,” begins to realize the idolatry of literature when he re­
views a book called
Illusion,
essentially a retelling of Ozick’s
earlier short story “Virility.” The motif of self-invention recurs
throughout the novel. Lars himself is described as having “an
orphan’s terrifying freedom to choose. He could become what­
ever he wished; no one could prohibit it, he could choose his
own history. He could choose and he could relinquish. He was
horribly, horribly free.” In retrospect, Lars’ “freedom” turns
out to be illusory. He is “free” of history, i.e., inauthentic. Lars
secretly names himself Lazarus Baruch. The first name conjures
raising from the dead, the second is a blessing. Perhaps this
name should be read: Blessed are those who are raised from
the dead. Or, as the
Musaf
service states “Thou, O Lord, . . .
revivest the dead ; . . . ” Many of the Jewish brands plucked from
the Nazi fire did make their way to Stockholm.