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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Pagan Rabbi

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase The Pagan Rabbi

Title: The Pagan Rabbi
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Stories
Written: 1961-71
Length: 270 pages
Availability: The Pagan Rabbi - US
The Pagan Rabbi - UK
Le rabbi païen - France

    Includes the stories:
    • The Pagan Rabbi
    • Envy; or, Yiddish in America
    • The Suitcase
    • The Dock-Witch
    • The Doctor's Wife
    • The Butterfly and the Traffic Light
    • Virility

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Our Assessment:

B- : small successes, small failures in an ambitious collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Book World . 6/6/1971 R.V.Cassill
Christian Science Monitor . 9/9/1971 Marilyn Gardner
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 13/6/1971 Johanna Kaplan

  From the Reviews:
  • "This book has no blank sheets. It reminds us that literature is not a luxury or diversion or anachronism, but an awakening and a restorative for the center of our lives." - Johanna Kaplan, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       These relatively early stories by Ozick (all written by 1971) already show much of her talent and promise, but read now, with the benefit of hindsight, they fall short of her later accomplishments. The collection is an interesting one, but compared to her later work it seems very much an apprentice work.
       The title story makes for a strong beginning, though the suicide of the pagan rabbi ("a man of piety and brains") is not the most original of subjects for a story. The "love letter" cum suicide note, read aloud by his widow, with its quotes within quotes seems also a bit forced, but Ozick does move beyond the conventional in what she relates.
       Envy is an amusing and sad little novella, an examination of the displaced Yiddish literary figures in post-War America -- the successful Ostrover (I.B.Singer, we presume), and the envious Edelshtein. It is an unusual slice of life, very New York, very Jewish, and Ozick's details are well-observed. Certainly the issue goes beyond loss of homeland, to loss of language as well as loss of religion (in irreligious America). Singer himself seems more authentic on this subject, but it is a fine piece Ozick has wrought.
       The title character in The Dock-Witch seems an early incarnation of Puttermesser's golem (in The Puttermesser Papers), while the other stories also paint pictures of Jewish life in contemporary America (or at least the America when Ozick was penning these) -- a subject that is not always of the greatest interest.
       Virility, which is about art and plagiarism, is the strongest of the other stories, Ozick writing about writing as a Jew and impostor in modern America. A clever idea, Ozick conveys it well.
       It is a good collection, seeming less impressive mainly because Ozick's later work is so much superior. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile collection for the fan (or those completely unfamiliar with her work).

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Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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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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