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Antiquities

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From one of our most preeminent writers, a tale that captures the shifting meanings of the past, and how our experience colors those meanings. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, one of the seven elderly trustees of the now defunct (for thirty-four years) Temple Academy for Boys, is preparing a memoir of his days at the school, intertwined with the troubling distractions of present eve From one of our most preeminent writers, a tale that captures the shifting meanings of the past, and how our experience colors those meanings. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, one of the seven elderly trustees of the now defunct (for thirty-four years) Temple Academy for Boys, is preparing a memoir of his days at the school, intertwined with the troubling distractions of present events. As he navigates, with faltering recall, between the subtle anti-Semitism that pervaded the school's ethos and his fascination with his own family's heritage--in particular, his illustrious cousin, the renowned archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie--he reconstructs the passions of a childhood encounter with the oddly named Ben-Zion Elefantin, a mystifying older pupil who claims descent from Egypt's Elephantine Island. From this seed emerges one of Cynthia Ozick's most wondrous tales, touched by unsettling irony and the elusive flavor of a Kafka parable, and weaving, in her own distinctive voice, myth and mania, history and illusion.


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From one of our most preeminent writers, a tale that captures the shifting meanings of the past, and how our experience colors those meanings. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, one of the seven elderly trustees of the now defunct (for thirty-four years) Temple Academy for Boys, is preparing a memoir of his days at the school, intertwined with the troubling distractions of present eve From one of our most preeminent writers, a tale that captures the shifting meanings of the past, and how our experience colors those meanings. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, one of the seven elderly trustees of the now defunct (for thirty-four years) Temple Academy for Boys, is preparing a memoir of his days at the school, intertwined with the troubling distractions of present events. As he navigates, with faltering recall, between the subtle anti-Semitism that pervaded the school's ethos and his fascination with his own family's heritage--in particular, his illustrious cousin, the renowned archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie--he reconstructs the passions of a childhood encounter with the oddly named Ben-Zion Elefantin, a mystifying older pupil who claims descent from Egypt's Elephantine Island. From this seed emerges one of Cynthia Ozick's most wondrous tales, touched by unsettling irony and the elusive flavor of a Kafka parable, and weaving, in her own distinctive voice, myth and mania, history and illusion.

30 review for Antiquities

  1. 4 out of 5

    Proustitute (somewhat here, somewhat there)

    I think incessantly of death, of oblivion, how nothing lasts, not even memory when the one who remembers is gone… 
 I remember nothing. I remember everything. I believe everything. I believe nothing. 

If there were ever any doubt that Ozick is a master storyteller, here’s your proof.

 Do yourself a favor and skip the blurb; don’t read the synopsis. Let Petrie’s fictional monologue take you over; let yourself get to know him, his regrets, his idiosyncrasies, his losses, his attempts at connect I think incessantly of death, of oblivion, how nothing lasts, not even memory when the one who remembers is gone… 
 I remember nothing. I remember everything. I believe everything. I believe nothing. 

If there were ever any doubt that Ozick is a master storyteller, here’s your proof.

 Do yourself a favor and skip the blurb; don’t read the synopsis. Let Petrie’s fictional monologue take you over; let yourself get to know him, his regrets, his idiosyncrasies, his losses, his attempts at connection with others. 

 Imagine an interior monologue—shaped just as America shakes off the first half of the twentieth century—that is an examination of the shackles of memory, a questioning of who "owns" whose history and legacy, and a laying bare of the guilt involved in carrying your own and others' stories into the next generation. Imagine this told with the baroque stylings of James within a Proustian project of aging, of facing both one’s mortality and the death of an age, wherein Dreyfus makes an appearance and for which fans of Bolano’s slim monologues and Marias’s own Jamesian verbosities will salivate at the mouth. 

 Do yourself another favor and read this all in one gulp.

  2. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Amusing contretemps among the elderly denizens of a defunct boarding school for boys which has now become an old age home for those who once administered the school. The year is 1949 and our narrator, Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, is one of the dwindling trustees. Seven remain of thirty-five or so, the balance deceased. As we read Petrie’s story of his past, some of the inmates devolve into antics worthy, well, of boarding school boys. But they’re octogenarians, nonagenarians. This tale is quirky enou Amusing contretemps among the elderly denizens of a defunct boarding school for boys which has now become an old age home for those who once administered the school. The year is 1949 and our narrator, Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, is one of the dwindling trustees. Seven remain of thirty-five or so, the balance deceased. As we read Petrie’s story of his past, some of the inmates devolve into antics worthy, well, of boarding school boys. But they’re octogenarians, nonagenarians. This tale is quirky enough to serve as the basis for a Wes Anderson film. Especially when you consider Mr. Petrie’s laughable Holocaust denial—World War II was fought just to save the Jews—and his otherwise blithe anti-Semitism. This is the set up for our return to Petrie’s own school days at the academy—all future trustees must have been schooled at the academy—and his problematic friendship with one Ben-Zion Elephantin. Elephantin is a strange boy with red hair—are those sidelocks behind his ears?—and the remnants of many languages in his speech. The novel is in some ways reminiscent of Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants. It’s as if we were able to spend more intimate time with the hidden Jew and his Gentile friend than the film affords us. And though there are no Nazis, the threat of ostracism from the school’s bully boys is real enough, and induces a terrible shame and dread among the prepubescent friends.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Subtle and complex stuff, as one would expect. Felt some similarities to Gass' Tunnel in certain respects (though not stylistically of course). Not her best but the fact that she is capable of such writing at the age of 93 is frankly amazing. Subtle and complex stuff, as one would expect. Felt some similarities to Gass' Tunnel in certain respects (though not stylistically of course). Not her best but the fact that she is capable of such writing at the age of 93 is frankly amazing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tunis

    This is one of those deceptively slender novels (Novella? Novelette?) that are so much more than they appear to be. On it's surface, an elderly man, the trustee of a long ago boys school, is attempting to write a short memoir of his time there. His thoughts focus entirely on an exotic classmate who has stayed, it seems, very much on his mind. So, you've got this old man, a not-so-reliable narrator, and the comedy and tragedy of the day to day dramas of his life. And you've got his memories of his This is one of those deceptively slender novels (Novella? Novelette?) that are so much more than they appear to be. On it's surface, an elderly man, the trustee of a long ago boys school, is attempting to write a short memoir of his time there. His thoughts focus entirely on an exotic classmate who has stayed, it seems, very much on his mind. So, you've got this old man, a not-so-reliable narrator, and the comedy and tragedy of the day to day dramas of his life. And you've got his memories of his youth, and what they say about the world he comes from, social mores--then and now--and the man he is today. And there's so much layering in a mere 192 pages that as soon as I finished reading it, I went back to the beginning and read it again. I had to stop myself from a third reading! Because beneath the light trappings, there really is a lot of there there. And also, Ms. Ozick's prose is simply a joy to consume. The author is 93-years-old, and at that advanced age appears to be sharper than the vast majority of the human race on their very best day. (Herman Wouk was like that. Just lived forever and kept on getting better and better until the very end.) A part of me still wants to revisit this tale, and I'm sure I will in time. But for now, I need to channel the impulse into reading deeper into Ms. Ozick's lengthy bibliography. I suspect there are many treasures to be found.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    While I was waiting for Antiquities, Cynthia Ozick's latest book, to come in the mail, I read her second novel, The Cannibal Galaxy (1983). I'm glad I did, because the earlier work illuminates the later one, not least because both The Cannibal Galaxy and Antiquities are school stories. The earlier novel is set somewhere in middle America, where Joseph Brill, a Jewish refugee from France, has set up a school that offers a dual curriculum of both Jewish religious instruction and the traditional we While I was waiting for Antiquities, Cynthia Ozick's latest book, to come in the mail, I read her second novel, The Cannibal Galaxy (1983). I'm glad I did, because the earlier work illuminates the later one, not least because both The Cannibal Galaxy and Antiquities are school stories. The earlier novel is set somewhere in middle America, where Joseph Brill, a Jewish refugee from France, has set up a school that offers a dual curriculum of both Jewish religious instruction and the traditional western liberal arts. Inspired by the books he'd read while hiding in a convent from the Nazis during the war, especially the works of Edmond Fleg, Brill dreams of uniting "the civilization that invented the telescope side by side with the civilization that invented conscience—astronomers and God-praisers uniting in a majestic dream of peace." This syncretic ambition is challenged when the brilliant philosopher Hester Lilt enrolls her seemingly mediocre daughter Beulah in Brill's Edmond Fleg Primary School. At the novel's heart is the uneasy dance between Brill and Hester. With his growing despondency over the sameness and mediocrity of the student body, he wonders how a genius like Hester can withstand having reared a normal or even sullenly underachieving child. She insists, by contrast, that one not "stop too soon"—i.e., judge by early rather than later evidence or declare defeat before the battle is over, as she deems Brill to have done by assimilating into American mediocrity and abandoning his own intellectual aspirations even as he scorns her daughter's abilities prematurely. "Ad astra," Brill, a former astronomy student, proclaims to his charges, but he has long since ceased his studies and now vegetates after hours in front of his TV. In the novel's eponymous metaphor, Brill has escaped Europe's exterminationist attempt to cannibalize the Jews only to fall prey to America's gentler assimilationist maw. We can read The Cannibal Galaxy, then, as the Orthodox Ozick's severe rebuke to Brill's universalist dream: a dual curriculum is no curriculum at all. The novel's earlier episodes, narrating Brill's youth, support this interpretation, especially when an adolescent Brill accompanies his cultured gentile school friend, Claude, across the Channel to hear an English author read from a manuscript in a room full of intimate men (neither the author nor the book are named in the third-person narration, which always cleaves to Brill's sometimes limited perspective). On the return trip, Brill fends off Claude's sexual advance, and Claude then crudely derogates him as "Dreyfus." Western culture is, on this view, endemically hostile to Jewish values and eventually threatening to the Jewish people. The subtext here, which will recur in Antiquities, is Ozick's 1971 review of E. M. Forster's Maurice, nastily subtitled "A Fairy Tale" when collected in Art and Ardor. There Ozick censures Forster's posthumous gay love story for what she takes to be its compensatory fantasy of subcultural private loyalties and homosexual plenitude, when, to her mind, the Hebraic Covenant enjoins communal allegiance, and even Hellenic paganism, to which Forster otherwise pledges his troth, demands progeny. Though she commits herself to the prohibition on idols, with their misdirection of reason and sympathy toward merest matter, Ozick loves Forster, not to mention James; and she loves nature and the body, as her sensuous, impastoed prose mimesis—the equal of her also beloved Bellow's—amply proves; and she loves the monastic life of the pagan poet with his inherently idolatrous ambition to make the flesh word, in defiance of Judaism's discarnate deity and His bodiless ethic. (Even Brill, for that matter, is "unsure whether he liked" Claude's kiss.) "Dual curriculum" could be the collective title of her oeuvre; I think of her great early story, "The Pagan Rabbi"—another Forsterian variation, this time on "The Story of a Panic"—whose titular protagonist flees his study to couple with a dryad in a squalid city park. Victor Strandberg's 1994 monograph, which has helped this wayward Catholic schoolboy to better grasp the writer's theology, bears a title that is even more to the point: Greek Mind/Jewish Soul: The Conflicted Art of Cynthia Ozick. Back to The Cannibal Galaxy: Brill, seeking a normal life in late middle age, marries his (non-intellectual) young assistant, and they a child who gives every appearance of being the prodigy he'd hoped for. Yet he lives long enough to see this son corrupted by America, becoming not a scholar or thinker but a mere money-mined business-school maven. Meanwhile, Brill discovers that he'd been wrong about Hester's ostensibly dull daughter, Beulah; she has flowered into a painter of great distinction, the Edmond Fleg Primary School's most successful student, albeit one who claims to an interviewer that she remembers nothing of her education. The novel ends with one of American fiction's finest final sentences, one that should be indited in marble on some portico:She labored without brooding in calculated and enameled forms out of which a flaming nimbus sometimes spread.Even the most wayward student of Ozick—I haven't read Trust, but then again, who has?—can read the ambivalence in these words: the dual curriculum's greatest and only success is, like her deviser, a major artist, i.e., a maker of idols. Ozick's only consolation is that Beulah doesn't seek to usurp the Creator—who brooded over the face of the waters in bringing forth the creation—but remands her art to its properly Greek sphere, that of calculation. Ozick's nimbus happily still flames in her 10th decade, which brings me at last to this year's novella, Antiquities, which purports to be the midcentury memoir of the elderly retired lawyer Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie. Petrie is a former student and current trustee of the Temple Academy, a private boys' school in Westchester, named for a family related to the more eminent Jameses (as in Henry, William, and Alice) who'd once owned the land. Like the other trustees, Petrie currently lives in the old boarding school, long since closed to students; they have all agreed to produce memoirs of their time at the Academy, but only Petrie is making any effort, to the despair of his fellow elderly residents, who complain of his Remington's nightly clatter. Petrie's diary-like account reads at first like an aleatory ramble, as Ozick cannily toys with her audience's patronizing expectations of an aged author, yet the novella is tightly organized around several motifs to which Petrie, both widowed and bereft of his secretary-mistress, helplessly recurs. First is his father's mysterious flight to join his archeologist cousin in Egypt in 1880, when the pyramids at Giza were being excavated, a flight from family and WASP respectability to a life of adventure. His father spent only a few months in Egypt, yet the objects he brought back—the "antiquities" of the title, not excavated from an archeological site but purchased in Cairo antique shops—remain in his son's possession and continue to fascinate him in old age, especially a stork-shaped jug with an inscrutable inscription on its base. Petrie also can't help but recall a red-haired boy who was his classmate at the Temple Academy in youth, the strangely-named Ben-Zion Elefantin, with whom he formed an unlikely, intimate, and eventually abortive friendship. The intense Elefantin, who speaks in elevated, stilted, foreign tones, makes no attempt to assimilate to the school; he listens attentively to the regular scriptural readings, while his rowdy classmates jeer and make faces. Like other Jewish students of the Temple Academy, Elefantin is shunned by the dominant Christian students, yet Petrie befriends him. They play chess together, and, at the novel's center, they lay together in Elefantin's room while the boy recounts his history, a tale the elderly Petrie transcribes from memory and hides from his fellow trustees in his father's cigar box. Elefantin claims that his parents are itinerant traders in antiquities who enrolled him in the Academy to shield him from their trade, which they are able to ply only because westerners "are hollow and have no histories of their own." The Elefantins' own history according to their son: they descend from Judean refugees who'd fled to the Elephantine Island in the Nile after their fellow exiles from Egyptian bondage began to worship "a gilded bovine of the barnyard." Because the Elephantine Jews built their temple near the island's pagan house of worship, though, other Jews ironically accused them of worshipping strange gods and wrote them out of the people's history. Elefantin protests that they kept the faith, that their incorruptible proximity to "the gods of the nations" testify to their own steadfastness in what Ozick may intend as another parable of the perils and pleasures of the dual curriculum. Elefantin, his hair the color of Egypt's sands as described by Petrie's father ("deeper and denser and more otherworldly than any commonplace Celtic red"), is linked to the paternal archeological expedition, not on what Forster would call the "vulgar" level of the story but rather symbolically. As the boy tells Petrie his history, they literally lay entwined in a passage of intense and narratively fruitful homoeroticism that suggests a palinode for Ozick's half-century-old reproof of Forster's gay "sterility":[H]e slid off his end of the bed and pulled me down beside him, with his face so close to mine that I could almost see my eyes in the black mirror of his own. I had never before felt the heat of his meager flesh; sitting side by side in the chapel's confining pews, our shoulders in their Academy blazers had never so much as grazed—nor had our knees in our short trousers. And now, the two of us prone on the floor amid the nubbles of dust, breathing their spores, I seemed to be breathing his breath. Our bare legs in the twist of my fall had somehow become entangled, and it was as if my skin, or his own, might at any moment catch fire.Toward the end of the novel, as Petrie's mind and body disintegrate, he concedes, "I remember nothing. I remember everything. I believe everything. I believe nothing," while Elefantin describes himself as "an apparition." Other reviewers have interpreted the boy as a ghost or as a projection of Petrie's consciousness; since our not-quite-reliable narrator is the only source of the information that would confirm or deny any such reading, the issue is undecidable. We can place Antiquities on the same shelf with those other brief and mysterious masterpieces of others, doubles, and projective apparitions: "Bartleby, the Scrivener," "The Secret Sharer," and The Turn of the Screw. If Antiquities is inherently ambiguous at the literal level, though, its higher meaning is clearer. Throughout his memoir, Petrie stresses his WASP bona fides, including a superficially unembarrassed genteel anti-Semitism that leads him to remark with scorn on the Temple school's being mistaken by vandals for a synagogue, to question the veracity of the first reports from the camps, and to approve the "kernel of truth" in the "commonplace disparagements" of Jews that he finds in the Academy's official history. Yet another of his Jewish classmates remembers Petrie as having refrained from the other boys' prejudices and accordingly helps him find a place to live when the trustees are finally dismissed from the Academy grounds. Through Elefantin, he comes to understand in boyhood that the Jewish scripture is, if he is a Christian, in part his own, even as his truest inheritance from his father is not caste complacencies but a yearning for otherness. The central image of Petrie and Elefantin in an embrace, skin to skin, breathing each other's breath and staring at each other's eye-borne reflections, tells the tale: there is no Christianity, and no western civilization, without Judaism, without an encounter in that desert where conscience was invented. Like her bête noire and own disavowed secret sharer, Edward Said, Ozick indicts western civilization for smugly denying its dependence on an other than is part and parcel of itself. Petrie refers to Elefantin's voice as "uncannily ancestral." The allusion to Freud is the writer's, not the narrator's. Petrie characteristically derides Freud as "this charlatan Jew," but Ozick knows that Freud called "uncanny" whatever is intimately familiar, yet displaced or estranged. Petrie's and Elefantin's relationship collapses in the end. Petrie shows the boy his father's prize curio, the jug fashioned like a stork. But in Elefantin's narrative he had recalled that the pagans of Elephantine Island worshipped "gods of the river, red-legged storks," whereas for the Jews, the stork was considered impure. Consequently, Elefantin judges the vessel an idol, an "abomination," in a scene set in a frigid communal shower where the boys face each other shivering and naked—a harrowing image from a writer for whom the Holocaust is never far off. Why is stork impure among birds? Antiquities supplies no answer, because the gentile Petrie doesn't know, and the reader unschooled in Jewish tradition may not know either. We could always Google it, but Ozick conveniently supplies the answer elsewhere in her oeuvre; if we return to The Cannibal Galaxy we'll discover the reason. In the earlier novel, Hester Lilt sends Brill one of her essays, which he fails to read for almost two decades; when he finally takes it up, he notices a teaching she'd lifted from his own recollection of his childhood rabbi's lessons. The stork's problem, Hester writes, is that "she loves only her own. She hopes only for the distinction of the little one under her heart. She will not cherish the stranger's young." Applying this to Antiquities, with its narrator who trades, however ambivalently, in anti-Semitic stereotype, we may see how Ozick deftly turns the old charges back against the gentile world: she suggests again and again in Antiquities that the Christians, not the Jews, are greedy, clannish, selfish, sectarian—caring only for their own and therefore insubordinate both to the Hebrew and to the Greek testaments. A dual curriculum is only possible if both student and teacher surmount such a mentality. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie never overcomes this barrier consciously, but he leaps it beneath his own awareness, powered by an imaginative longing for a distant relation, for a companion from afar.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    This short novel belies its density, its grappling with many themes: the writing process, aging, the oblivion of death, family mysteries, inchoate and blurred memories, unrealized loves and hidden self-truths, as well as Judaism and its corollary, anti-semitism. As Ozick turns 93 this year, certainly some of these concerns belong to her. The first-person narrator is Lloyd Wilkerson Petrie, a widowed octogenarian, a retired lawyer, the third and final generation to run his family's New York law f This short novel belies its density, its grappling with many themes: the writing process, aging, the oblivion of death, family mysteries, inchoate and blurred memories, unrealized loves and hidden self-truths, as well as Judaism and its corollary, anti-semitism. As Ozick turns 93 this year, certainly some of these concerns belong to her. The first-person narrator is Lloyd Wilkerson Petrie, a widowed octogenarian, a retired lawyer, the third and final generation to run his family's New York law firm - his son having decamped to California to pursue an erstwhile career in film - and as a trustee of the Temple School, a upper-class WASP boarding school for boys in Westchester, NY, Lloyd and a handful of the other elderly and likewise wealthy trustees now reside at the school, which has been turned into their personal old-age home, all living literally amidst their schoolboy memories, in rooms renovated but retaining their old names, like Lloyd's which was and still is called Fifth Form Cell. The trustees have devised a memoir project, to be appended to the school's old History project: each is to write a salient short memoir about something that especially affected them while students there. What was remains true for Lloyd today - back in his school days, despite his status as a WASP scion, he was ostracized by his equally WASP classmates for his brief and transient near-friendship with one of the rare Jews to attend the school, a thin red-haired boy named Ben-Zion Elefantin. This memoir that Lloyd attempts to write gives us details of his early life - most notably about his father who early in his marriage to Lloyd's mother ran away to Egypt; Lloyd's own early marriage; his apparent love for his now-dead secretary, and slowly, eventually, into Lloyd's quasi-friendship with Elefantin, an exotic, a descendant of those Jews exiled long ago on Elephantine Island in Egypt, on the Nile, Ben-Zion and his parents outcasts of outcast people. What has Lloyd been hiding from himself all these years - about his father and his mystery trip, a life not lived, about Lloyd's life also not lived - his love for his secretary, his adolescent attraction not spoken of with Elefantin? Written in Lloyd's formal vernacular, the lawyer trying to write prose when he is most use to legal writing, to seeing memories as depositions, the juxtaposition of the formality with the powerful feelings running underneath Lloyd's memories generates heat.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cflack

    An existentially unhappy old WASP (in his 80s), Petrie looks back on his life to write a brief memoir for his old boarding school. It is 1949. His wife, who he married in a “shotgun” wedding, is dead. His son lives in LA hoping to make it in the movie industry turning his back on the staid, stilted life that his parents and those before him have lived. Petrie is alone. No real friends, his fellow school trustees that he lives with show him only contempt and mockery, and seemingly his only real l An existentially unhappy old WASP (in his 80s), Petrie looks back on his life to write a brief memoir for his old boarding school. It is 1949. His wife, who he married in a “shotgun” wedding, is dead. His son lives in LA hoping to make it in the movie industry turning his back on the staid, stilted life that his parents and those before him have lived. Petrie is alone. No real friends, his fellow school trustees that he lives with show him only contempt and mockery, and seemingly his only real love was for his for secretary who is also dead but he still keeps and uses her old Remington typewriter. You may wonder, if you know anything about Cynthia Ozick, why she would be telling this tale. She is a writer for whom Judaism, its history and people are the thread that ties much of her work, especially her fiction together. Stay the course. Ozick builds her world using subtle (and not so subtle) anti-Semitism as threads to show the world of late 19th and early 20th century America for Jews as well as showing Petrie as unhappy because looking back whether he sees it or not – I don’t believe he really sees it – he never really accomplished anything in his life. We see the Temple School being mistaken for a synagogue and Petrie and his fellow students have to clean up after the chapel windows are mistakenly smashed. We see his contempt for his son looking to find success not in the staid legal world of New York but in the world of movies dominated by Jews. We see the hostility and envy Petrie has for Greenhill (a fellow student who was one of the few Jews) and his successful son who buys the land Temple School is on essentially kicking him out of his place to live and also providing him a new place to live, partially out of altruism but ostensibly to attract the “right” kind of clientele to his new residential building. We see in 1949, a few years after the end of WWII Petrie’s not quite believing the horrors of the holocaust. But most importantly we see the brief but important relationship Petrie has with Ben-Zion Elafantin a Jewish student at Temple. It is both his fascination with Ben-Zion as a fellow outsider and chess player as well as his rebuking the story and collection of items Petrie was left from his father’s brief episode in Egypt working on an archeological dig with a cousin. These items are the connection Petrie has to a father who died young and who was a very absent presence. Beautiful and nuanced storytelling.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    An interesting novella, a densely filled hundred pages, but I fear I’m too dense for its subtleties, at least I seem to have failed to grasp the very heart of its spiraling telling and was left scratching my head and going, “Huh?” Lloyd Petrie, an elderly gentleman, a trustee of the Temple School for Boys, a long-defunct educational institution, is living on the campus of that school with a handful of other aged trustees, all of them former pupils. There have been official histories of the schoo An interesting novella, a densely filled hundred pages, but I fear I’m too dense for its subtleties, at least I seem to have failed to grasp the very heart of its spiraling telling and was left scratching my head and going, “Huh?” Lloyd Petrie, an elderly gentleman, a trustee of the Temple School for Boys, a long-defunct educational institution, is living on the campus of that school with a handful of other aged trustees, all of them former pupils. There have been official histories of the school, but now they have set themselves the task of recording personal memoirs of their schooldays. The very non-linear narrative has Petrie (was there ever a more unreliable narrator?) dive into in the past as he works on his memoir, interspersed with passages of his increasing irritation with his fellow residents. His memories take him to his father’s past, to a time when he briefly abandoned his “regular” life to join a distant relative, an archeologist working on digs in Egypt, returning home with a collection of perhaps spurious antiquities, now in Petrie’s possession. His memoir centres on his fascination with an older student, the mysterious and exotic Ben-Zion Elefantin, a Jewish boy who claims descent from Egypt’s Elephantine Island, connected to Petrie’s antiquities. As Petrie navigates his memories of the past, the school’s anti-Semitism emerges clearly, which caused Ben-Zion to hold himself aloof, believing Petrie to be his friend, as indeed Petrie fervently believed it. A tale of allusion and confusion, the nature of memory, truth and deceit. Like I said, a lot packed into 100 pages.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    This is the (fictional) memoir of Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, the cousin of (historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whose excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza was (possibly) preceded by work on Elephantine Island, on the Nile. The narrator's father brought back treasure from the island when he (briefly) worked with the renowned archeologist, treasures he still has locked away in the room he inhabits as one of the last trustees of a private boy's school in Westchester. His memoir, This is the (fictional) memoir of Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, the cousin of (historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whose excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza was (possibly) preceded by work on Elephantine Island, on the Nile. The narrator's father brought back treasure from the island when he (briefly) worked with the renowned archeologist, treasures he still has locked away in the room he inhabits as one of the last trustees of a private boy's school in Westchester. His memoir, ostensibly to fulfill the assignment given to the trustees, to create as tudy of a salient moment in his own life as a student in that school, veers off into a memory of a strange young boy, Jewish and ostracized (as were all the other Jewish boys), whose origin tale of being one of a (possibly) lost tribe of Israel and whose friendship is, therefore, poisonous in the genteel antisemitism of the time. The memoir veers between the present, last days of the residence of the last trustees, and the days when he and Ben-Zion Elefantin became - friends? Possibly, friends. Possibly - ? Ozick is a wizard, creating worlds that may contain actual magic, but certainly contain so many layers that only a wizard's wand could parse. Her age should not be a factor in a book review, but she's almost 93, and fully in charge of each word, each aside, each mark of punctuation. I was ensorcelled by this tale, and by the failing but true voice of the elderly narrator.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ling Ling

    Unfortunately really didn’t like this book. Cynthia Ozick is clearly an incredible writer, all the more impressive for writing so well at age 93. I just didn’t like the subject matter or the main character at all. Why should I spend time with a curmudgeonly old navel-gazing white man who is anti-Semitic, ungrateful, and basically hates everyone and everything? There are enough real white men like that in the world and reading is a way for me to escape that particular brand of narcissism and priv Unfortunately really didn’t like this book. Cynthia Ozick is clearly an incredible writer, all the more impressive for writing so well at age 93. I just didn’t like the subject matter or the main character at all. Why should I spend time with a curmudgeonly old navel-gazing white man who is anti-Semitic, ungrateful, and basically hates everyone and everything? There are enough real white men like that in the world and reading is a way for me to escape that particular brand of narcissism and privilege. How disappointing to pick up a female author and to then be steeped in it instead. This was like a much shittier Sense of an Ending and Remains of the Day. It’s been done and much better and can we move on from these narrators and narratives now? I was surprised to learn after reading that the author is Jewish herself. The main character’s anti-Semitism was dangerous to read. His love for a Jewish outsider didn’t somehow redeem him. Ben-Zion Elefantin and his heritage are essentially victims of the Jewish people, a potential cause for more anti-Semitism! Unnecessary. As far as I am aware, Jewish people didn’t seek to erase the existence of the Elephantine Jews. I’m grateful for the introduction to the Elephantine papers. They are truly fascinating. I wish she had fictionalized about them differently.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    A beautiful gem by one of the most gifted American writers. This story, set in 1949, by an elderly lawyer who recounts his singluar friendship with a Jewish outcast at a boys private school in Westchester County in 1915. Ozick's character writes deliberately, and with a message that is both provocative and wistful, and never wavers. This novella is worth your time to read and savor. Set against a backdrop of the writer's father's brief foray to Egypt in 1880 and certain antiquities that he broug A beautiful gem by one of the most gifted American writers. This story, set in 1949, by an elderly lawyer who recounts his singluar friendship with a Jewish outcast at a boys private school in Westchester County in 1915. Ozick's character writes deliberately, and with a message that is both provocative and wistful, and never wavers. This novella is worth your time to read and savor. Set against a backdrop of the writer's father's brief foray to Egypt in 1880 and certain antiquities that he brought home. The individual pieces, along with the writer's infatuation with his Jewish classmate, dominate narrative, and the reader will be engaged, and drawn in, to the story, and its highly stylized and old-fashioned delivery. This is Ozick summoning Henry James and a bygone era that will never return to America. Ozick also does not stint on the writer's latent anti-semitism, typical of the WASP class that he comes from, but the protagonist is able to somehow rise above it, briefly, and then settles back to his familiar prejudices. Cynthia Ozick is a national treasure and one hopes she continues to publish.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Ferriter

    ** 5 stars ** Oh how deep the human capacity for self-deception is! Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, an aging trustee of an exclusive (now defunct) New England boys' academy where he was once a pupil, is preoccupied with writing his memoir, which will be included as part of the history of the academy. As he reflects, he puzzles over his father's adventures in Egypt and a boy he once knew at the academy with the unusual name of Ben-Zion Elefantin. Petrie's nostalgic retreats into the past prevent him from ** 5 stars ** Oh how deep the human capacity for self-deception is! Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, an aging trustee of an exclusive (now defunct) New England boys' academy where he was once a pupil, is preoccupied with writing his memoir, which will be included as part of the history of the academy. As he reflects, he puzzles over his father's adventures in Egypt and a boy he once knew at the academy with the unusual name of Ben-Zion Elefantin. Petrie's nostalgic retreats into the past prevent him from engaging with the present and recognizing the equal humanity of those around him, a characteristic that seems to have been the case all his life. I loved this book, which emotionally devastated me at the end in a way similar to Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. Ultimately, Ozick knows, "we are what our memories tell us" (94), for better or worse, and like the narrator of Antiquities, sooner or later we will all be faced with the decision to "destroy what cannot be accounted for, or dispatch it all" (166).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan Zinner

    While I loved "Heir to the Glimmering World," I found this one a bit challenging. Ozick writes about the elderly Lloyd, one of several trustees of a now-defunct boarding school; each trustee is writing about an incident in the history of the school and Lloyd is writing about his relationship with a fellow Jewish pupil who claims that he is part of a Jewish sect from Elephantine Island, off the coast of Egypt. Ozick leaves so much up to the reader (was it unrequited love with the other young stud While I loved "Heir to the Glimmering World," I found this one a bit challenging. Ozick writes about the elderly Lloyd, one of several trustees of a now-defunct boarding school; each trustee is writing about an incident in the history of the school and Lloyd is writing about his relationship with a fellow Jewish pupil who claims that he is part of a Jewish sect from Elephantine Island, off the coast of Egypt. Ozick leaves so much up to the reader (was it unrequited love with the other young student? why didn't Lloyd love his wife? why is the ending so unclear?), that I feel she sacrifices clarity for lovely prose.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Howard Eisman

    In Cynthia Ozick's essays, her points are made as crisply as a Jacob deGrom fastball, but her stories are something else. There is an undercurrent of subtle satire in the stories, but is she denigrating or appreciating what she satirizes? She tells great stories. but their points-if any-are ambiguous. In this short book, she manages to satirize Henry James, 20th century WASP culture, Hollywood, old typewriters, and, deliciously, the Exodus itself.. Beyond the humor, this is a story of a lonely m In Cynthia Ozick's essays, her points are made as crisply as a Jacob deGrom fastball, but her stories are something else. There is an undercurrent of subtle satire in the stories, but is she denigrating or appreciating what she satirizes? She tells great stories. but their points-if any-are ambiguous. In this short book, she manages to satirize Henry James, 20th century WASP culture, Hollywood, old typewriters, and, deliciously, the Exodus itself.. Beyond the humor, this is a story of a lonely man, close to death, who examines a life that increasingly seems meaningless except for his memories of a difficult friendship in grade school. Brilliantly done!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The author does a great job of writing in a very old-fashioned style, one more suited the books my parents and grandparents read rather than modern literature. That's not a bad thing, just a caution for those looking for a zippy read: this will take time to digest. Looking back over his long association with the Temple Academy for Boys, as a student and then as a trustee, Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie takes his time getting to the meat of his story. There are meanderings around the life of the school, The author does a great job of writing in a very old-fashioned style, one more suited the books my parents and grandparents read rather than modern literature. That's not a bad thing, just a caution for those looking for a zippy read: this will take time to digest. Looking back over his long association with the Temple Academy for Boys, as a student and then as a trustee, Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie takes his time getting to the meat of his story. There are meanderings around the life of the school, his family's connections to Sir Flinders Petrie, how the trustees work, his Remington and myriad other topics, while we want to get to his friendship with Ben-Zion Elephantine. When Ben-Zion appears, it's still very much overshadowed by the rest of Lloyd's memoir, and how that friendship was ruptured doesn't appear to play as big a role in the written story as we're led to believe. Another quibble is that phrase "the subtle anti-Semitism that pervaded the school's ethos" in the blurb. It's not subtle! eARC provided by publisher via Netgalley.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    I can only describe this novella as challenging and her work as "enigmatic" This is not an easy read but more like trying to piece together a 1,000 piece puzzle. Only when the last piece is put down do you get the clear picture and you are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. This is probably not going to be for everyone. Ozick is more of a "writers writer" but as someone who still loves Henry James and Edyth Wharton, the language is beautiful. And for an even more rewarding experience check I can only describe this novella as challenging and her work as "enigmatic" This is not an easy read but more like trying to piece together a 1,000 piece puzzle. Only when the last piece is put down do you get the clear picture and you are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. This is probably not going to be for everyone. Ozick is more of a "writers writer" but as someone who still loves Henry James and Edyth Wharton, the language is beautiful. And for an even more rewarding experience check out Elephantine Island and Jewish history youtube videos.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    Old English gent thinking about his life, a monologue of so many thoughts that sometimes it’s difficult to follow. But I like it, it’s a bit dull at first but then deep memories arise with his philosophies and adventures taken. The characters are similar but not overly drawn out, it’s all the main gent’s worries+life events that carry him on, nothing outrageous, and nothing remarkable. Still, it is short, thoughtful of life, and a distinct time of life to ponder it. A good 3.5 stars

  18. 5 out of 5

    Libriar

    This novella about an elderly trustee of a defunct prep school where he now lives is written in an "old" style which took some getting used to. I really liked reading about the present day reality of living in a crumbling school but I was not as engaged in his reminiscing about his uncle's Egyptian travels and his relationship with a somewhat mysterious, slightly older, Jewish boy when he was a student at the school. This novella about an elderly trustee of a defunct prep school where he now lives is written in an "old" style which took some getting used to. I really liked reading about the present day reality of living in a crumbling school but I was not as engaged in his reminiscing about his uncle's Egyptian travels and his relationship with a somewhat mysterious, slightly older, Jewish boy when he was a student at the school.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Thomas

    The story dragged a bit with the writing which I wasn't much of a fan of (Ozick, I think did a good job of writing like an upper middle class man in mid century America who would have been educated at the turn of the 20th century? I just wasn't much of a fan). The story also seemed to lack any sort of meaningful reflection or interaction between the narrator and a boy from his youth who he thinks about in his old age. The story dragged a bit with the writing which I wasn't much of a fan of (Ozick, I think did a good job of writing like an upper middle class man in mid century America who would have been educated at the turn of the 20th century? I just wasn't much of a fan). The story also seemed to lack any sort of meaningful reflection or interaction between the narrator and a boy from his youth who he thinks about in his old age.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Davida Chazan

    In this story (which is what she calls it - not a novel or a novella), we find out that quantity does not equal quality. Ozick is a master story-teller, and with this fictional memoir she proves it once again. https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2021/04/1... In this story (which is what she calls it - not a novel or a novella), we find out that quantity does not equal quality. Ozick is a master story-teller, and with this fictional memoir she proves it once again. https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2021/04/1...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Debby

    A deceptively simple book where an aged man thinks back on his life at a boys academy and the influence of his father's trip to Egypt and a boy presumable from the relatively unknown ancient Jewish community on Elefantine Island in the Nile. A deceptively simple book where an aged man thinks back on his life at a boys academy and the influence of his father's trip to Egypt and a boy presumable from the relatively unknown ancient Jewish community on Elefantine Island in the Nile.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Borges vibes. I know everybody is always saying that but in this case it’s actually true.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jaquie Campos

    This was an aeroplane

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gary Branson

    Excellent writing. A wonderful interlude for a Sunday afternoon.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    "LA Times," 4/18/21 "LA Times," 4/18/21

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    3.5 maybe

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I will read anything Cynthia Ozick writes, whether it's a book, essay, cereal box, or a post-it note. I will read anything Cynthia Ozick writes, whether it's a book, essay, cereal box, or a post-it note.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    A novella written by a seasoned author at the age of 93. Kudos to her

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    Interesting read. There's a lot going on in a little book. Interesting read. There's a lot going on in a little book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Livia Corry

    A cute little novella- only 5 inches tall!- about an elderly man and his memoirs about his time as a pupil and then a trustee at an all boy's school in the late 1800s. A cute little novella- only 5 inches tall!- about an elderly man and his memoirs about his time as a pupil and then a trustee at an all boy's school in the late 1800s.

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