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7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick

A short novel that’s billed sometimes as a “mystery”. That's a stretch, though there is a mystery of sorts and even a family of swindlers. It’s really a philosophical novel, with a generous dose of humor. Novels that honor ideas more than human interactions and situations are not my favorites—I’d rather read existentialist thinkers than the novels they write. That must be my peculiarity, though, since I find most people quite puzzled by my preferences.

The main character is Lars Andemening, a refuge child from Eastern Europe, raised by a Swedish foster family and now a minor literary figure—third in the line of book reviewers at what is not the top notch Stockholm rag. Like many children and probably all orphans, he imagines an ideal parentage—in this case a Polish Jewish writer (Bruno Schulz) who was martyred by the Nazis—and dedicates his life to the supposedly lost manuscript of that father’s novel, “The Messiah”. Lars shapes his life around Schulz and the lost novel, letting his actual life slide—two lost wives and a daughter, an environment that’s ever more minimal, a job where he doesn’t even have a cubical and only arrives after everyone else has left.

Lars’ fantasy life leads him to try to learn Polish (so he can read his father’s work) and to Heidi Eklund who runs a dusty bookshop with some specialty in Eastern Europe; she helps him search out bits of Bruno Schluz’s trivia—letters, biographicals bits, and references to the work. She knows of Lars' fantasy of finding “The Messiah” miraculously preserved from the effluvia of war. He’s clearly a top candidate for her manipulation and she finds a Schulz daughter to whom the lost manuscript has been entrusted. Problem is that Lars doesn’t react as she expected. Posted by Picasa

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