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November 04, 1983 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Friday, November 4, 1983 21



Book Editor Gives 2nd View of Cynthia Ozick's 'Cannibal Galaxy'

calls Middle America,
where he establishes an
elementary, dual-
curriculum school, with
Jewish and general courses,
with the financial backing
of a wealthy Jewish be-


(Editor's note: Charles
Madison presents a sec-
ond look at Cynthia
Ozick's The Cannibal
Galaxy," which was first
reviewed in the Oct. 21
Jewish News by Dr.
Joseph Cohen.)

With the publication of
"The Cannibal Galaxy"
(Knopf), Cynthia Ozick has
become recognized as a wri-
ter of solid distinction. More
than most writers, she is
fascinated by the meaning
and preciseness of words
and their combinations. Her
writing is noted for its
exactness, now and then re-
sorting to dictionary words
for fine connotation.
Also, she is solidly
learned in Hebrew lore as
well as literature, and she
makes use of this know-
ledge with an aura of mysti-
cal implications. This at
times leads her stimulated
imagination to deviate into
the unusual, the fanciful —
not always with the desired
The main character in
"The Cannibal Galaxy" is
Joseph Brill, who as a
French-Jewish boy in the
early 1940s is hidden from
the Nazis by kind-hearted
nuns. While in the secret


basement of the convent, he
comes upon the library of a
late bishop whose taste in
literature was quite unor-
Already indoctrinated by
his rabbinic teacher, the
books he now read opened
his mind to a world ignored
by his rabbi. After his liber-
ation he becomes interested
in astronomy and takes
courses in the Sorbonne.
Soon losing interest in his
studies, and with his pa-
rents and other members of
his family having perished
during the Holocaust, he
decides to leave for the Un-
ited States.
Brill settles in what he


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Nothing seems to ad-
vance from season to sea-
son: "Nothing moved. No-
thing altered. The first
grade was always the first
grade, the eighth grade al-
ways the eighth. This know-
ledge turned him. cold, it
was the coldness of the cos-
mos itself. The same, the
same. The same — nature
replaces, replaces identi-
cally, replaces chillingly."
This mediocre sameness
in time dulls his mind,
withers his early idealism,
and he becomes stale,
routinized, so that he ceases
to read or even to think.
Then Hester Lilt brought
her little daughter Beulah
to his school and his life
takes a sudden turn. Lilt
was an "Imagistre Linguis-
tic Logician," a title foreign
to him and the more intrigu-
ing. Long an admirer of
genius and a believer that
genius begets genius, he
was perturbed to find
Beulah an ordinary, shy
child — and her mother not
in the least distressed by it.

Learning that Lilt had
written philosophic
books and was highly in-
tellectual, he sought to
make her his friend, but
found her aloof and
stand-offish. When he
telephones her, her at-
titude is enigmatic and

Czech Survivors
Make Pilgrimage
to Theresienstadt

*at modest and reasonable rates

Ralph R. Goldsmith
Rabbi •
Noah M. Gamze D.D.

For a time he is ani-
mated by ambition and
idealism. He makes the
motto of the school ad
astra, and seeks to de-
velop the pupils into
thinking and intelligent
human beings. Before
long he is distressed by
the mediocrity that char-
acterizes everything
about him: the parents,
the pupils, the general


LONDON — Holocaust
survivors now living in
Czechoslovakia made their
annual pilgrimage to the
site of the Theresienstadt
concentration camp last
month, the International
Council of Jews from
Czechoslovakia reported.
The visit concluded with a
memorial service at the
Ohre river, where the Nazis
dumped the ashes of Jews
who were killed in the

built to suit her. He becomes
more sociable in his general

When he learns of his
wife's pregnancy — he
had done so before their
wedding — he begins to
dream of having a son
who would possess the
genius he had longed for
in his youth. With the
passing years he is de-
lighted to note how
bright and creative his
son has become, and con-
centrates on his intellec-
With him in his 50s and tual development.

her in her 50s, he thought
that he would like to marry
her. When she definitely
discourages such a relation-
ship, he yields to the
friendly approach of the
much younger school recep-
tionist, a divorcee with a son
of six. She intimates to Brill
that she has no objection to
marrying a man much older
than herself, and he decides
to make her his wife.

He phones Lilt to tell her
the news, and in the conver-
sation he implies that all
her philosophy was in fact
developed to justify her at-
titude to Beulah's medioc-
rity, unaware that Lilt had
hung up on him. He soon
learns that she has obtained
a teaching post in Paris and
was going there with her
Marriage makes a con-
siderable change in Brill's
life. At the urging of his
wife, he has his quarters re-

Ozick telescopes the years
to show that the son grows
up to be not a philosophic
thinker but eager to become
a businessman and
money-maker. Brill sup-
presses his disappointment,
but in his inner, hardly-
conscious self his pessimism
with life increases.
During this period Brill
learns that Beulah, the
timid, introspective child
who had been judged a
nonentity by the school
psychologist and himself,
and who had been sure that
her mother had been deeply
disappointed in her, had
suddenly become popular as
a painter and was fre-
quently discussed in art
It hurt him to read in an
interview with her that she
had no recollection of hav-
ing attended his school; also
how wrong he had been in
judging her future de-
velopment. When Beulah

was named the "Painter of
the Year," Brill finds him-
self thinking that Hester
Lilt's apparent indifference
to her daughter and her
snobbishness toward him
had altered his life for the

Indeed, he came to be-
lieve that Lilt "had
spoiled his life — had, in
fact waylaid him, plun-
dered and robbed him. In
hindsight he knew he had
been ambushed by Hes-
ter Lilt."

By this time he was in his
70s, retired and living in
Florida, no longer in-
terested in his wife and ac-
cepting her sarcastic refer-
ences to his old age with in-
difference. He has con-
cluded that human beings
cannot be molded by exter-
nal teaching and that
mediocrity was the lot of
most human beings.
What distinguishes this
brief novel is not only the
excellence of the writing but
the philosophy underlying
it. The characters attain re-
ality in the process of their
portrayal, and the writing is
heightened by the literary
aptness of the similes and
It is the kind of story one
cannot read on the run;
overtones and intimations
hold one's interest and
stimulate thought and re-
flection for those able to ap-
preciate the beauty and
pleasure of the nature of the



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