Boston. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2016. 211 pages.
This slender but dazzling collection of thirteen essays, some previously published but refurbished, is primarily concerned with fiction and criticism, both of which Cynthia Ozick practices with ease. It is clear that she is not a reviewer but a critic. Reviewers are allocated a certain amount of space, while critics can—or should—be given free rein, addressing not just the work but its relationship to the world in which it gestated and into which it arrived.
Naturally, such critics are rare. Most can synopsize and summarize, but not all can judge, the root meaning of “critic”—one who can adjudicate, producing something akin to literature. Ozick asks as much of critics as Alexander Pope did in “An Essay on Criticism,” who demanded “a knowledge both of books and humankind.” Ozick is very much the kind of critic Pope envisioned. The epigraph is taken from Pope’s essay, and the title was suggested by Pope’s challenge to critics, urging them to attack the excesses of the age: “These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage, / Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage!”
Two such critics who can satisfy Ozick’s criteria are the polymath Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, who based his criticism on moral as well as aesthetic grounds. To Ozick, the ability to wield language creatively, even in letter writing, is paramount. She praises Saul Bellow’s letters both for their expression and insights. The prose may not be as inventive as that of the novels, but the letters are a worthy ancilla.
Ozick has never considered the Holocaust a horror of the past but an ever-present reminder of hearts so hardened and “so inhumanly wicked, that only God can fathom them.” Ozick does not claim to fathom the darkness of the heart, only to expose it in the profoundly disturbing “Love and Levity at Auschwitz: Martin Amis,” a reflection on Amis’s novel The Zone of Interest. As Matthew Arnold might have said, Ozick saw literature steadily and saw it whole. . . . Pope would have welcomed her into the pantheon.
Bernard F. Dick
Fairleigh Dickinson University
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|Born||(1928-04-17) April 17, 1928 (age 89)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cynthia Shoshana Ozick (born April 17, 1928) is an American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
Cynthia Ozick was born in New York City, the second of two children. She moved to the Bronx with her Russian-born parents, Celia (Regelson) and William Ozick, proprietors of the Park View Pharmacy in the Pelham Bay neighborhood. As a girl, Ozick helped to deliver prescriptions. Growing up in the Bronx, she remembers stones thrown at her and being called a Christ-killer as she ran past the two churches in her neighborhood. In school she was publicly shamed for refusing to sing Christmas carols. She attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. She earned her B.A. from New York University and went on to study at Ohio State University, where she completed an M.A. in English literature, focusing on the novels of Henry James.
Ozick is married to Bernard Hallote, a lawyer. Their daughter, Rachel Hallote, is an associate professor of history at SUNY Purchase and head of its Jewish studies program. Ozick is the niece of the HebraistAbraham Regelson. She lives in Westchester County, New York.
Ozick's fiction and essays are often about Jewish American life, but she also writes about politics, history, and literary criticism. In addition, she has written and translated poetry. The Holocaust and its aftermath is also a dominant theme. Much of her work explores the disparaged self, the reconstruction of identity after immigration, trauma and movement from one class to another.
Ozick says that writing is not a choice but “a kind of hallucinatory madness. You will do it no matter what. You can’t not do it.” She sees the “freedom in the delectable sense of making things up” as coexisting with the “torment” of writing.
Awards and critical acclaim
In 1971, Ozick received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for her short story collection, The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories. In 1997, she received the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Fame and Folly. Three of her stories won first prize in the O. Henry competition.
In 1986, she was selected as the first winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story. In 2000, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Quarrel & Quandary. Her novel Heir to the Glimmering World (2004) (published as The Bear Boy in the United Kingdom) won high literary praise. Ozick was on the shortlist for the 2005 Man Booker International Prize, and in 2008 she was awarded the PEN/Nabokov Award and the PEN/Malamud Award, which was established by Bernard Malamud’s family to honor excellence in the art of the short story. Her novel Foreign Bodies was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (2012) and the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize (2013).
The novelist David Foster Wallace called Ozick one of the greatest living American writers. She has been described as "the Athena of America’s literary pantheon," the "Emily Dickinson of the Bronx," and "one of the most accomplished and graceful literary stylists of her time."
- Trust (1966)
- The Cannibal Galaxy (1983)
- The Messiah of Stockholm (1987)
- The Puttermesser Papers (1997)
- Heir to the Glimmering World (2004) (published in the United Kingdom in 2005 as The Bear Boy)
- Foreign Bodies (2010)
- All the World Wants the Jews Dead (1974)
- Art and Ardor (1983)
- Metaphor & Memory (1989)
- What Henry James Knew and Other Essays on Writers (1993)
- Fame & Folly: Essays (1996)
- Quarrel & Quandary (2000)
- The Din in the Head: Essays (2006)
- Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays (2016)
- A Cynthia Ozick Reader (1996)
- The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (introduction 2001)
- Fistfuls of Masterpieces 
- 2000 NY Times: The Girl Who Would Be James by John Sutherland (on Ozick's book Quarrel & Quandary)
- 2002 Partisan Review: Cynthia Ozick, Aesthete by Sanford Pinsker
- 2004 Law and Literature, vol. 16, pp. 229–235 (summer, 2004): Reading and Misreading the Reader by Jeffrey I. Roth (on Ozick's essay The Rights of History and the Rights of Imagination)
- 2005 The Guardian: The World is Not Enough by Ali Smith (on Ozick's book The Bear Boy)
- 2006 Moondance magazine: Answering the Writer's Tumult – On Cynthia Ozick's 'The Din in the Head' by Lys Anzia
- 2006 NY Times Book Review: " The Canon as Cannon, by Walter Kirn (on Ozick's book "The Din in the Head")
- 2010 NY Times Book Review: "Cynthia Ozick’s Homage to Henry James", by Thomas Mallon (on Ozick's book Foreign Bodies)
- 2010 Jewish Ideas Daily: "Taking Sides", by D. G. Myers (on Ozick's book Foreign Bodies)
- 2010 NY Times Book Review: "A Jamesian Pays Tribute in a Retelling", by Charles McGrath (on Ozick's book Foreign Bodies)
- 2016 Weekly Standard: "The Essential Critic", by Benjamin Balint (on Ozick's book Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays)