Synopses & Reviews
“An absorbing achievement .º.º. A nimble, entertaining literary homage, but it is also, chillingly, what James would have called ‘the real thing.”—New York Times Book Review
Cynthia Ozick is a literary treasure. In her sixth novel, she retraces Henry Jamess The Ambassadors and delivers a brilliant, utterly new American classic.
At the center of the story is Bea Nightingale, a fiftyish divorced schoolteacher whose life has been on hold during the many years since her brief marriage. When her estranged, difficult brother asks her to travel to Europe to retrieve a nephew she barely knows, she becomes entangled in the lives of his family. Over the course of a few months she travels from New York to Paris to Hollywood, aiding and abetting her nephew and niece while waging a war of letters with her brother, and finally facing her ex-husband to shake off his lingering sneers from decades past. As she inadvertently wreaks havoc in their lives, every one of them is irrevocably changed.
“Raucous, funny, ferocious, and tragic. A literary master, as James was, Ozick makes all those qualities fit together seamlessly, and with heartbreaking effect.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“Dazzling, even masterful.”—Entertainment 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
In her sixth novel, Cynthia Ozick retells the story of Henry Jamess The Ambassadors as a photographic negative, retaining the plot but reversing the meaning.
Foreign Bodies transforms Henry Jamess prototype into a brilliant, utterly original, new American classic. At the core of the story is Bea Nightingale, a fiftyish divorced schoolteacher whose life has been on hold during the many years since her brief marriage. When her estranged, difficult brother asks her to leave New York for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows, she becomes entangled in the lives of her brothers family and even, after so long, her ex-husband. Every one of them is irrevocably changed by the events of just a few months in that fateful year. Traveling from New York to Paris to Hollywood, aiding and abetting her nephew and niece while waging a war of letters with her brother, facing her ex-husband and finally shaking off his lingering sneers from decades past, Bea Nightingale is a newly liberated divorcee who inadvertently wreaks havoc on the very people she tries to help.
For her sixth novel, Ozick set herself a brilliant challenge: to retell the story of Henry James's "The Ambassadors"--the work he considered his best--but as a photographic negative, that is the plot is the same, the meaning is reversed.
By the summer of 1952, Beatrice Nightingale had taught school in New York City for 24 years, had been divorced from her Hollywood-composer husband for some 20 of those years, and had been estranged from her brother for nearly her entire life. She had lived in the same small apartment since her wedding, a space still dominated by her ex-husband's piano--just as her life was still defined by his decisions of so long ago. But that summer, her brother suddenly reached out to her for the first time in years, begging her to intercept and retrieve her nephew, a Paris runaway. His request propels Bea toward decisions and departures--partly well intended, partly selfish--that unravel a complex knot of siblings, spouses, exes, and Bea's extended family, in an unforgettable portrait of a middle-aged woman who finally gains the chance to escape the traps of her past. Bea travels to Paris, California, and back to New York, and the novel shifts perspective to reveal the stories of her niece, her nephew and his unexpected wife, Bea's brother and sister-in-law, and her ex-husband. The men in her life have treated her badly, as she is painfully aware, yet in finally trying to gain her own independence from them, how can she resist her own, more subtle form of counterattack and revenge?
About the Author
Author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, CYNTHIA OZICK is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. Her writing has appeared in The New Republic, Harper's, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.