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The Shawl Paperback – August 29, 1990

4.4 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The Shawl" is a brief story first published in the New Yorker in 1981; "Rosa," its longer companion piece, appeared in that magazine three years later. They tell a story of a woman who survived the Holocaust but who has no life in the present because her existence was stolen away from her in a past that does not end. "A book that etches itself indelibly in the reader's mind," concluded PW .
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is actually a five-page prologue and an extended short story. Aside from that, Ozick gives us exactly what we expect: a meditation, in figurative language at times dense and shimmering, at times richly colloquial, of the consequences of the Holocaust. Accompanied by her niece and hiding her tiny daughter, Magda, Rosa stumbles toward a concentration camp, where Magda is to die, flung against an electrified fence. Years later, in America, we meet "Rosa Lublin, a madwoman and a scavenger, who gave up her store--smashed it up herself--and moved to Miami." She still writes to her dead daughter, whose shawl she covets. When Rosa meets brash, voluble Simon Persky at the laundromat, she resists his arguments that "you can't live in the past" with some persuasive arguments of her own. Indeed, the reader is uncertain to the end whether Rosa will bend--and whether she ought to. A subtle yet morally uncompromising tale that many will regard as a small gem.
- Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 69 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 29, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679729267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679729266
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on January 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
"The Shawl," the book by Cynthia Ozick, is made up of two linked pieces: a short story (also entitled "The Shawl"), and a novella ("Rosa"). Together, these pieces make up a book that is just about 70 pages long. But despite its brevity, "The Shawl" is a powerful work of fiction.
The book tells the story of Rosa Lublin, a Polish Jew and survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. Eventually she settles in Florida. This is a dark, haunting tale with some surreal satiric elements.
There are many fascinating touches to "The Shawl." I was intrigued by Ozick's representation of immigrant "English-as-a-second-language" speech patterns. Also noteworthy is Ozick's look at the complexity of linguistic, class, and national identification within the Jewish community. Rosa's problematic relationship-by-mail with a professor of clinical social pathology is also noteworthy, and struck me as comparable to a certain motif in Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved."
Rosa, who is bitter, angry, and psychologically broken, is a genuinely haunting and tragic figure. "The Shawl" is not light reading, but it is a memorable and rewarding book. Recommended as a companion text: Art Spiegelman's 2-volume "Maus."
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By A Customer on July 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Shawl is a hauntingly beautiful story and novella of a woman, Rosa, who watches her baby daughter, Magda, die at the hands of a concentration camp guard during the holocaust. Told in lyrical prose, Ms. Ozick captivates us with the symbol of the shawl representing everything that Rosa lost during the war. The shawl is what she hid her daughter Magda in at the concentration camp so that Magda wouldn't be thrown into the gas chambers. But, her evil niece Stella (who is with Rosa and Magda at the concentration camp) steals the shawl from the baby one night. The baby is then found and killed by a guard.
The rest of the story tells of Rosa's life 39 years later as she has taken residence in a dumpy hotel room in Florida that evil Stella (who now resides in New York) pays for. Here, Rosa lives day to day in a sort of mental fit, deluding herself that Magda is still a live, a beautiful lioness, a doctor married to a doctor, living in a gorgeous house in New York. Amid open sardine cans and half eaten eggs, Rosa writes letters to this daughter.
Toward the end of the novella, Rosa finally receives a box with the shawl in it which Stella has reluctantly sent to her. "Get on with your life; join a club; put on your bathing suit!" Stella tells her in a letter attached to the shawl. But, all that Rosa cares about is breathing in the shawl, Magda.
Overall, this was certainly one of the greatest pieces of writing I've ever had the chance to read. Cynthia Ozick knows her subject, is deeply deeply in tune with her characters and touches us with all that they feel and do.
I look forward to reading more of her work. She is a truly gifted writer who has much to offer the world.
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In Ozick's book she presents a truly phenomenal treatise on the life of a retired holocaust survivor. Ozick paints an incredible graphic picture of what Miami looks like to one who has survived a stint in a Nazi concentration camp. The story starts with a classic example of Nazi savagery, showing how the protagonist had a daughter in the camp, and how that daughter was treated with gratuitous violence and horror.

Ozick clearly portrays a women with a mind that has been tortured so badly, that she feels that everything is deeply negative. The vision is of one whose eyes have been colored with blood colored glasses, and the dust and ash of burnt bodies. The story leads the reader through this emotional and psychic horror show, that runs through the protagonist's head.

For a bit of additional irony, Ozick reveals the story as her character searches the city for a lost pair of underwear. This personal item is so important to her, that she exerts more energy in the search for that, than she does in the continuation of life. Her perspective is that the Nazi's "stole her life." And for so many, this was indeed the case. Whether they survived or not, they had their lives stolen from them.

Through this prism Ozick reveals the way the mind is deeply and permanently affected by the exposure to a period of horror; that no human being should ever have to endure. As a result, the experience always leaves an impression on the mind which cannot be shirked, no matter how hard a survivor tries, the memory of the ugliness and the near death conditions never completely leaves their memory or present day life.

The book is highly recommended for those interested in the affect that being in a concentration camp exerts on the human mind. It also is a purely exquisite tale of human suffering.
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Format: Paperback
Both stories in this brief book ("The Shawl" and "Rosa") are about the same women, who sees her baby killed in the camps and thirty years later is haunted by her memory. "The Shawl" (the first story) is, I think, the best short story in the English language (it dwarfs Carver and Cheever in scope, has deeper moral thrust than O'Conner and in a few pages evokes the Holocaust as much as Primo Levi was able to do in his eloquent long works). In a few words: Read this story and you will be changed. On the other hand, "Rosa" (a novella) is drawn out and, though powerful, more nuanced and subtle than its predecessor. Although usually good things, these elements work against the story (especially if read in succession) - "The Shawl"'s power is its unwillingness to compromise anything whereas "Rosa" seems to err a bit on the long side. It's almost tempting to give the stories entirely different ratings but the "10" of "The Shawl" so far eclipses any "9" or "8" I would give "Rosa" that I think it unfair to lower the status of the better story. This work is not nice or easy and doesn't attempt any of the catharsis some Holocaust Fiction ludicrously includes. It is hard to read (and should be) because both works are more or less a statement about our own humanity (or inhumanity). The prose itself is wonderfully easy, but the depth of emotion Ozick strikes makes this a very difficult 69 pages. Read it and you too will "never forget".
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