Heir to the Glimmering World: A Novel

by Cynthia Ozick

Hardcover, 2004

Call number




Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2004), Edition: New title, 320 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML: Cynthia Ozick is an American master at the height of her powers in Heir to the Glimmering World, a grand romantic novel of desire, fame, fanaticism, and unimaginable reversals of fortune. Ozick takes us to the outskirts of the Bronx in the 1930s, as New York fills with Europe's ousted dreamers, turned overnight into refugees. Rose Meadows unknowingly enters this world when she answers an ambiguous want ad for an "assistant" to a Herr Mitwisser, the patriarch of a large, chaotic household. Rosie, orphaned at eighteen, has been living with her distant relative Bertram, who sparks her first erotic desires. But just as he begins to return her affection, his lover, a radical socialist named Ninel (Lenin spelled backward), turns her out. And so Rosie takes refuge from love among refugees of world upheaval. Cast out from Berlin's elite, the Mitwissers live at the whim of a mysterious benefactor, James A'Bair. Professor Mitwisser is a terrifying figure, obsessed with his arcane research. His distraught wife, Elsa, once a prominent physicist, is becoming unhinged. Their willful sixteen-year-old daughter runs the household: the exquisite, enigmatic Anneliese. Rosie's place here is uncertain, and she finds her fate hanging on the arrival of James. Inspired by the real Christopher Robin, James is the Bear Boy, the son of a famous children's author who recreated James as the fanciful subject of his books. Also a kind of refugee, James runs from his own fame, a boy adored by the world but grown into a bitter man. It is Anneliese's fierce longing that draws James back to this troubled house, and it is Rosie who must help them all resist James's reckless orbit. Ozick lovingly evokes these perpetual outsiders thrown together by surprising chance. The hard times they inherit still hold glimmers of past hopes and future dreams. Heir to the Glimmering World is a generous delight..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member deckla
An ambitious work exploring complex themes of radicalism, isolation and exile, obsession and belief, family, indebtedness, the emptiness of scholarship in isolation, perception. Set in the years before the outbreak of WWII, it chronicles a few years in the life of young Rose, a throwaway kid who
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becomes the amanuensis for a refugee scholar enmeshed in the study of a breakaway sect of Judaism called karaites, who appear to defy longstanding traditions of interpretation in Judaism to hold with fundamentalism—the primacy and absolutism of the text itself. The scholar’s wife, Mrs. Mitwisser, has become unhinged as she & her family have been exiled from their former life of privilege in Germany to (eventually) a ramshackle house in the Bronx. She was a scientist; there are hints of an affair with Erwin Schroedinger. The family’s benefactor is James, the ignored, misunderstood child of a father who used him as the model and subject of a very successful series of children’s books, the “Bear Boy” [read Winnie-the-Pooh]. It is a subversion of the Victorian novel, implicitly comparing ideas of European culture, history and blindness with American commercialism and lack of history and freedom. The sentences are rich, dense, poetic.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
"Heir to the Glimmering World" tells the story of a young American woman with few roots or prospects becomes involved -- as a babysitter, typist, and confidant -- with a peculiar family of refugee academics fleeing from Nazi Germany in the mid-thirties. There's a wealthy Christopher Robin-type
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figure, a gender-bending committed Communist, and a wayward pharmacist somewhere in here, too. For a lot of readers, the book will seem a bit twee, a too-cute take on one of the most tumultuous, most anxious, and most miserable periods of the bloody twentieth century. They're not wrong, though the sheer dexterity of Ozick's writing makes it both more readable more convincing than it might have otherwise been. Her style's heavily ornamented and the vocabulary much more obscure than it strictly needs to be, but she's skilled enough to use a five-syllable monster or a back-of-the-thesaurus find without tripping over herself. Her sentences flow beautifully and her prose, though hardly realistic, never comes off as cluttered. Still, charges that "Heir to the Glimmering World" an exercise in surfaces and nostalgic style, that it sounds like it was composed in a too-hip Brooklyn coffee bar, and that it might not exist had the Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" had not been released might not be off the mark, either.

The best defense of the book I can make is that Ozick, intentionally or otherwise, gives us a kind of playful American Gothic here: it features a bucolic, woodsy setting in the middle of the Bronx, communists who burn with love and ambition, a haunted, depressed atomic theorist, and scholar of religious history who's austere as any mystic. It's not a bad analogy for the world in the mid-twentieth century, really: some unsettling contradictions lie just under this book's sometimes too-neat surfaces. The novel's central character is also appealing, and it's no accident that she is probably also it's most clear-eyed and forthright. For long stretches, "Heir to the Glimmering World" can be pretty seductive, and not just because of the way that its author displays her obvious talent. But whether you'll call it a "serious work" or even a good novel is really another question entirely. Probably not for readers over forty-five or so. Otherwise, the mileage on your old-timey Ford Model A may vary.
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LibraryThing member booksandbosox
I'm not really sure what to say. This book had been sitting on my shelf for a few years at least and I was excited to finally pick it up because it looked so cool. It was really disappointing. The writing was well-done but the narrative - there was something so strange about it and not in a good
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way. It was just a huge emotional disconnect, I think, between the narrative and the story. Going into this, I had no idea that it was supposedly a thinly veiled representation of the saga of A.A. Milne's family. I found that out when I had read about a third of the book, and I don't think it really made any difference to how I read the story. It certainly didn't add anything (although maybe if I actually knew something about Milne and the creation of Winnie the Pooh it would make a difference). Overall, very disappointing. I was glad to be done with it.
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LibraryThing member apartmentcarpet
The premise of this story - an abandoned young woman working at the house of an unusual family with an even more unusual patron in the thirties - should make for a delightful book. But somehow, I just can't get into it. The characters are interesting on the surface, but the prose is so dry that
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it's hard to read for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. I am disappointed.
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LibraryThing member missmaya
slow and thoughtful. A little too thoughtful for my taste.




0618470492 / 9780618470495


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