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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Metaphor & Memory

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase Metaphor & Memory

Title: Metaphor & Memory
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1989)
Length: 285 pages
Availability: Metaphor & Memory - US
Metaphor & Memory - UK
Metaphor & Memory - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good pieces, but an odd lot of stuff

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 23/4/1989 Alex Raksin
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 23/4/1989 Robert Kiely
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Fall/1989 Ilan Stavans
The Washington Post . 30/4/1989 Robert Craft
World Lit. Today . Spring/1990 Bernard F. Dick

  From the Reviews:
  • "Most of these essays excel, nevertheless, for their deeply reflective exploration of the way culture colors belief and perception. Rather than launching a voguish deconstructionist attack on the way cultural memories distort, Ozick celebrates myths and metaphors for the way they enrich our identity" - Alex Raksin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "One of the reasons that these essays are successful -- in addition to Ms. Ozick's obvious passion for the material -- is that they are filled with questions and speculations. In her introduction to this collection, the author says that essays are another form of fiction and, her own anyway, "never a tenet." Only when she forgets her own definition and attempts to generalize with an air of too much authority do her essays falter." - Robert Kiely, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(S)o marvelous are these essays that readers will be searching her fiction to understand them." - Ilan Stavans, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Metaphor & Memory collects thirty non-fiction pieces by Ozick from throughout the 1980s, published in magazines as diverse as Ms., The New Criterion, Esquire, Partisan Review, and Salmagundi. Curiously, a large number of the pieces are retitled. A review titled Talks with the Gods who lure Children is listed here titled O Spilling Rapture ! O Happy Stoup !. A piece on the C.P.Snow's two-culture notion, originally called Science and Letters -- God's Work and Ours is here Crocodiled Moats in the Kingdom of Letters. Enchantments at First Encounter becomes The Shock of Teapots. And so on. The only explanation we have is that Ozick is doing her best to annoy future bibliographers. (We can understand wanting to change a book review title or two forced upon an author by some newspaper editor, but to want to change so many seems a worryingly bad sign. Why couldn't she get at least some of them right the first time ?)
       There are a number of book reviews included here -- of William Gaddis' Carpenter's Gothic, Italo Calvino's Under the Jaguar Sun, J.M.Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K., Saul Bellow's Him with his Foot in his Mouth, among others. It is a curious collection of books Ozick writes about, not exactly the books that are remembered and treasured from that decade. Worthy (generally), most seem more like second-tier works (though often by first-tier authors). Ozick offers interesting little pieces on the works, brimming with the enthusiasm she has for most of the authors she reviews, but they seem largely incidental pieces, fairly typical of reviews found in The New York Times Book Review.
       The other pieces are also a varied lot, ranging in length from one page to over twenty. Pear Tree and Polar Bear: A Word on Life and Art offers a bit more than a word (two paragraphs, in fact), concluding:

As for life, I don't like it. I notice no "interplay of life and art." Life is that which -- pressingly, persistently, unfailingly, imperially -- interrupts.
       It is her most succinct explanation, but the basic sentiment -- love of art, distraction and suspicion of life -- is felt throughout these essays, and indeed all her work. (Note also that even this brief piece was originally published under a different title, the more direct How Writers live Today.)
       There are reminiscences, such as Washington Square, 1946 (about Ozick's first experiences at college in Manhattan). Other essays also take the personal as a starting point, including the longer piece, Ruth.
       There are a variety of pieces with literary foci -- the title piece (originally published as The Moral Life of Metaphor), A Translator's Monologue (a fairly interesting piece about the problems of translation), and The Question of Our Speech: The Return to Aural Culture. There are even brief travel pieces (written for The New York Times' horrible occasional supplement, The Sophisticated Traveler).
       As always, most of what Ozick does she does very well, and most of the pieces are interesting. They do not, however, fit ideally together as a collection -- too many of the pieces are too small or incidental, the mix is just a bit too varied. There is enough here that is worth reading, but as a collection this seems quite clearly the weakest of the four volumes of Ozick's non-fiction to appear. Which is still better than most of what one finds.

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Metaphor & Memory: Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous works of fiction, as well as several collections of essays. She has been awarded a number of prizes and honors, and she has received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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