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Foreign bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Foreign bodies (2010)

by Cynthia Ozick

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3742241,950 (3.41)135



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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
I revere Cynthia Ozick (although sometimes I think I like the idea of her more than I like her actual work). This was just okay for me. I think I would have liked it more if I'd read it in tandem with The Ambassadors. Oddly, I found it less can't-put-it-down compelling than the other two books I read last week (The Irresistible Henry House and The Art Student's War), but it's the only one of the three I would ever want to reread. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
This book was just okay. The only reason I decided to read it was because it's shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize. I have to say that I'm pretty bummed that this book made the list while I feel other titles were more deserving of the honor.

( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
I revere Cynthia Ozick (although sometimes I think I like the idea of her more than I like her actual work). This was just okay for me. I think I would have liked it more if I'd read it in tandem with The Ambassadors. Oddly, I found it less can't-put-it-down compelling than the other two books I read last week (The Irresistible Henry House and The Art Student's War), but it's the only one of the three I would ever want to reread. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This book started well and I found Bea quite a compelling character. As the plot progresses and she becomes more and more ensnarled in Marvin'd children's lives I slightly lost track of her motivation.
I found Paris describes quite well and the idea of displaces people after the war came across very well.
Overall however, at the end, I was a little disappointed. ( )
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
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.
( )
  eaterofwords | Nov 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (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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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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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