After a seven-year hiatus from fiction writing, Cynthia Ozick
makes a bold return with “Heir to the Glimmering
World.” The novel is intricately woven, primarily telling the
story of Rose Meadows, an 18-year-old orphan struggling to make her
way in New York City during the late 1930s.
Rose winds up working as a nanny and typist for the Mitwisser
family, refugees from Nazi Germany. Living in a run-down home in
the Bronx, most of the novel deals with Rose’s adjustment to
the chaotic family. At the head of the family is strict Prof.
Rudolf Mitwisser, a formerly acclaimed scholar of Karaism, a Jewish
sect. He spends his days cramped in the city library while his
invalid wife and five children run amok at home.
Through an interesting turn of events, the Mitwisser
family’s sole source of income is from a friend, James
A’Bair. As a child, he was the subject of a popular
children’s story, “Bear Boy,” which is loosely
based on A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”
A’Bair as a character is one of the novel’s
weaknesses. While most of the characters drive the story and fuel
the plot, his character falls short of Ozick’s aims for him
as a failed hero.
Stylistically, “Heir to the Glimmering World” has a
Victorian feel to it, reminiscent of a Dickens or Charlotte
Brontë novel with its romantic undertones and old world
ideals. The traditional feel is a result of the Mitwisser
family’s values, which come from pre-Nazi Germany. However
the novel also has distinctly modern aspects to it as well, adding
to the complexity of the work.
The majority of the story is told through the eyes of Rose, who
spends her time working on Prof. Mitwisser’s research and
attempting to calm down his mentally unstable wife. Where the novel
falters is it’s daunting length — 310 pages. While
Ozick’s writing is overall quite well done and easy to read,
at times it seems as if she is feeding the reader too much story to
swallow. Part of this is due to the large number of characters
featured in the book, which inevitably created subplots in addition
to the main storyline.
“Heir to the Glimmering World” has solid prose and
interesting, well-developed characters to offer the reader. Length
aside, the novel is a good read for anyone interested who is in the
late ’30s or simply has some time to spare.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars