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Foreign bodies by Cynthia Ozick
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Foreign bodies (2010)

by Cynthia Ozick

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3101835,978 (3.41)132
Recently added byprivate library, kurtau, Juliana.Brina, eaterofwords, arena55, im_bib

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Ozick is a wonderful, lyrical writer, and I've greatly enjoyed some of her other books. But this one, though it was a vivid study of place, didn't make me love it. I couldn't connect with the characters; while I don't expect to necessarily like whoever I'm reading about (though it's always excellent when I care about them despite their massive flaws), I need to care about the consequences of what they are doing. And nothing in this book made me commit that much. Granted, I have not read the Ambassadors and that may be why.
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  eaterofwords | Nov 16, 2014 |
In this masterful reshaping of Henry James’ The Ambassadors, Ozick’s characters largely appear in crisis mode spurred by the realization they may have missed the best life has to offer. Darkly humourous and, at times, tragic Ozick’s tale is a revenge tale that brings happiness to no one.
  vplprl | May 15, 2014 |
Start with a recommendation from David Foster Wallace; add in a novel that got a lot to do with one of my five favorite novels (James' Ambassadors)... well, you'd think I'd love it. And yet, I conclude, meh.

First the fun stuff (fun, at least, for people like me): Ozick takes James' 'ficelle,' the character who exists only to let the plot carry on doing what it needs to do, and turns her into the main character. I always fall in love with James' ficelles (usually single/'oldmaid'30ish women who are smarter and kinder than anyone else in his novels), so I was immediately excited by this. Sadly, I am not in love with Bea. Anyway, Ozick then moves the plot of the Ambassadors to the fifties, and instead of Americans, makes it about Jewish Americans. I don't really care, although there are some possibly interesting bits about Jewish American young men falling in love with Jewish European displaced person middle aged women.

Now, the sillinesses: Americans in California are philistine idiots, even if they were once promising artists. Americans in Europe are post-romantic idiots, even if they were once promising scientists. Americans in New York, though, are all tremendously sensible. Even Europeans in New York are tremendously sensible. And this isn't just a 'New Yorkers know better' thing. The characters who stop by in New York become sensible for just as long as they're in New York. Suffice to say, as an Australian who has lived or presently lives in Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I find this sort of thing pretty irritating. I've never felt more insane and silly than the few days I've spent in New York. The literary disease of making everyone except the utterly, utterly stupid philistines consumers of great literature (including one character who's related to Proust) is in full flow.

Other than these points, it's meticulously, perfectly crafted, and has absolutely no emotional or intellectual interest or weight whatsoever. I imagine that Jewish Americans who live in New York will be very flattered. Otherwise you might want to stick to, say, The Ambassadors.

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  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
"It was all well-written but there was absolutely nothing else drawing me to read it."
read more:http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/foreign-bodies-cynthia-ozick.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | May 3, 2013 |
I read about a third of The Ambassadors before starting this, which I don't think is necessary, but it did help me appreciate the book more. I liked the ideas (about expatriates and displaced persons and the world post-WWII) more than the plot or the characters, although I thought Bea worked as the central character. One problem I had was that Marvin seemed cartoonishly mean. ( )
  kgib | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
In Foreign Bodies, Ozick has taken the framework of James's plot and turned it into a scaffold to support her perennial subject – the fate of the 20th-century Jew. The novel she has produced extends the reach of James's novel geographically and emotionally – and moves beyond homage into the realm of independent creation. It turns out that the road to perdition is a fruitful one.
 
Instead of an hourglass, Ozick has given us, to use James's own term, “a loose, baggy monster” accommodating, among other things, Yiddish folk tales, a series of letters, zigzags in time and space and digressions on the advent of television in America and the nature of a scherzo.
As for language, in place of James's filigree of circumvolution and ambiguity, we get overt statement and oodles of over-the-top-and-down-in-the-ditch prose... It's as if Ozick has seized the exquisitely written chamber music of James's masterpiece and arranged it for brass band; while there are passages as good as Gershwin's An American in Paris – many graced by marvellous images – there are frequent false notes, too....For a consummate celebration of Paris and for a profound exploration of the tragic disjunction between what we wish to be true and what we can't escape knowing to be real, read The Ambassadors. But for an evocation of unspeakable loss and unfathomable love rooted in the nightmare of a history James couldn't begin to imagine, you couldn't do better than Foreign Bodies.
 
Yet, unlike "Heir to the Glimmering World" or "Dictation," "Foreign Bodies" never seems to come to fruition. Partly, that's due to the nature of its construction — even though you don't need to have read "The Ambassadors" to understand it; there are no overt references to the novel, other than a few puns and one-liners, a comment about "all this ambassadorial traffic" in an early piece of dialogue, or a recollection of Bea's father reading "George Meredith and Henry James."
 
Foreign Bodies tells a tale of “children gone wrong, life gone wrong, love traduced [and] hope rotted”. Bea’s meddling in these awful people’s lives leads to tragedy. She acts out of a mixture of boredom and despair but her desire for revenge after years of neglect is laced with kindness.

Ozick is not in the business of providing easy answers. She deals in big themes – not the least of which is anti-Semitism – yet uses a playful style to explore them. To echo the most famous line in The Ambassadors (“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to”): read this wonderful novel; it would be a mistake not to.
 
Ozick follows in his distant wake, but however much she reveres James’s great art, she doesn’t fear sailing on the oceans of blood spilled after his own slow-moving galleon finally docked. “Foreign Bodies” is a nimble, entertaining literary homage, but it is also, chillingly, what James would have called “the real thing.
 

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Epigraph
But there are two quite distinct things – given the wonderful place he’s in – that may have happened to him. One is that he may have got butalized. The other is that he may have got refined.
-HENRY JAMES The Ambassadors
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July 23, 1952
Dear Marvin,
Well I’m back. London was all right, Paris was terrible, and I never made it down to Rome.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547435576, Hardcover)

In her sixth novel, Cynthia Ozick retells the story of Henry James’s The Ambassadors as a photographic negative, retaining the plot but reversing the meaning.

 

Foreign Bodies transforms Henry James’s prototype into a brilliant, utterly original, new American classic. At the core of the story is Bea Nightingale, a fiftyish divorced schoolteacher whose life has been on hold during the many years since her brief marriage. When her estranged, difficult brother asks her to leave New York for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows, she becomes entangled in the lives of her brother’s family and even, after so long, her ex-husband. Every one of them is irrevocably changed by the events of just a few months in that fateful year. Traveling from New York to Paris to Hollywood, aiding and abetting her nephew and niece while waging a war of letters with her brother, facing her ex-husband and finally shaking off his lingering sneers from decades past, Bea Nightingale is a newly liberated divorcee who inadvertently wreaks havoc on the very people she tries to help. 

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:38 -0400)

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Presents a retelling of Henry James's "The Ambassadors" that follows the efforts of divorced schoolteacher Bea Nightingale to navigate a turbulent year spent with her estranged brother's family.

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