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Foreign Bodies Hardcover – November 1, 2010

3.5 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ozick's somber latest (after Dictation) pursues the convergence of displaced persons in post-WWII Paris and New York. In the summer of 1952, Bea Nightingale, a divorced middle-aged high school English teacher in New York, has been dispatched by her bullying brother, Marvin, a successful businessman, to Paris to bring home his wayward son, Julian, who turns out to be an ambitionless waiter now married to an older Jewish woman, Lili, who lost her husband and young son in the war. Ozick deftly delineates these fragile lives as they chase their own interpretations of the American dream: the son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, Marvin has remade himself in the WASP mold required of Princeton and his blue-blooded wife; his well-educated but rudderless daughter, Iris, is also on Julian's trail and hungry for the feminist inspiration her Aunt Bea imparts; Julian and Lili grasp each other like a mutual life raft; while Bea herself is intelligent and clear-eyed about everything but her own heart. Unfortunately, Ozick doesn't make a convincing case for all the fuss over Julian, and the perilous intersections this novel sets up derail into murky and, for the reader, frustrating sidetracks. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ozick’s heady fiction springs from her deep critical involvement in literature, especially her fascination with Henry James, which emboldened her to lift the plot of his masterpiece, The Ambassadors, and recast it in a taut and flaying novel that is utterly her own. It’s 1952, and Bea has lived alone for decades after a fleeting marriage, teaching English to street-tough Bronx boys she much admires even as she covers their compositions with red ink. Haunted by her ex, a composer who decamped to Hollywood and made a fortune writing movie scores, Bea is also long estranged from her wealthy brother, Marvin. Yet he asks her to fly to Paris to search for his missing son, Julian, whom he surmises is besotted with the city’s fabled charms. Instead, Julian’s Paris is a dark and merciless place of lost souls because he is in love with a Romanian refugee whose family perished in the Holocaust. Operating in a fugue state brought on by the sudden eruption of deeply buried pain and rage, Bea manages to make bad situations truly disastrous. Ozick’s dramatic inquiry into the malignance of betrayal; exile literal and emotional; the many tentacles of anti-Semitism; and the balm and aberrance of artistic obsession is brilliantly nuanced and profoundly disquieting. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547435576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547435572
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,239,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Cynthia Ozick, author of The Shawl and Trust: A Novel, two of my favorite books, has written a gem of a novel in Foreign Bodies. A slithering and taut comedy of errors, this book examines issues of betrayal and trust, literal and emotional exile, regret and rage, Judaism in post-World War II Europe and the meaning of art in one's life. While based on themes similar to Henry James' The Ambassadors, this novel is distinctly and uniquely Ozick's.

It is 1952 and 48 year-old Bea Nightingale has been teaching English to boys in a technical school for decades. They are more interested in other things than Shakespeare and Dickens but Bea gives it her best shot each semester. Once briefly married to Leo, a composer and pianist, Bea has been divorced for decades and Leo has gone on to do very well as a composer of scores for Hollywood movies. After Leo left Bea, he also left his grand piano which takes up a huge place in Bea's small Manhattan apartment and symbolizes several things to her - regret, the importance of art, and betrayal. Leo was supposed to pick up the piano and never did. It has sat untouched for years, an homage to Bea's anger and loss, along with its symbolic meaning of art as creation.

One day, out of the blue, Bea gets a letter from her semi-estranged brother, Marvin, asking her to to find his son Julian, an ex-pat who took a college year abroad and has not returned after three years. Marvin is a legend in his own mind, an arrogant, controlling, rude man who has made his fortune in airline parts in California.
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Format: Hardcover
After I finished "Foreign Bodies," I read an article in the Times Literary Supplement that said this about Cynthia Ozick: "Parading her erudition like a peacock, the owner of a self-conscious style...." Understand that this description is meant as a compliment. I wish I had read it before I picked up the book. I found the story of Beatrice Nightingale and her thoroughly horrible family to be very tough going. And when I got there, I didn't know where I was.

The novel begins with a brief letter from Bea to her brother, Marvin, describing a trip to Europe from which she has just returned and hinting at something else--trying to track down someone named Julian, returning a $500 check. Chapter 2 describes that trip--Paris during a terrible heat wave, her search for Julian, her nephew. She doesn't know what he looks like. What is that all about? It was a promising beginning, and as another reviewer here promised, I was drawn in.

But as the story develops, and we learn about why Bea is looking for Julian and why a huge chunk of her 2 1/2-room apartment is taken up with a grand piano, I was stumped. None of the characters ever rang true for me--they seemed more like props than like flesh-and-blood people. Bea's brother is a wealthy manufacturer, in love with money and the power he believes it gives him over people. (Bea proves the point by allowing him to shame her into turning right around and going back to Paris to find Julian because she failed the first time. I found this awfully hard to swallow.) Marvin's wife--a WASP he married for her money and pedigree--is your basic crazy woman in the attic. The son is rude, boorish, lazy. His wife is misery personified.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Foreign Bodies" is the first Ozick I've read, and I was immediately struck by how beautifully written it is. Ozick uses a lot of imagery and symbolism in this book, but it's never overdone or forced. The story is a retelling of Henry James' "The Ambassadors," a book that I recall as impenetrable, which impression I re-experienced when I tried to read both books to compare. Bea, the main character, is asked--or more accurately, ordered--by her boorish brother Marvin to travel to Europe to reclaim a wayward son. Bea leaves her job and goes, and experiences the awakening to Europe and its ambiguities that James' first hero does. Bea finds herself sympathetic to Julian, the son, and his lover. The trip finally allows her to stand up to her brother and shed the memories of her own past that have kept her in suspension for a good part of her life. Unfortunately I found it difficult to understand Bea. Why anyone would do anything requested by a guy like Marvin? He belittles her and her work, and says she has to make the trip to find Julian because he, Marvin, is far too busy and important. And why would anyone keep the massive grand piano that her ex-husband left in her tiny NY apartment when he left? She's unable to get rid of it to reclaim her own space, even after many years. Ultimately I couldn't understand how these people had such a hold on her when they lived far away and had little to do with her daily life. Others in my book club, however, were not as judgmental, and loved the book. The 3 stars is my own opinion; 4 is the rating that would likely be given by my group.
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