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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Quarrel & Quandary

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase Quarrel & Quandary

Title: Quarrel & Quandary
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2000)
Length: 250 pages
Availability: Quarrel & Quandary - US
Quarrel & Quandary - UK
Quarrel & Quandary - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting, well-written collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A+ 24/9/2000 S. Salter Reynolds
The NY Observer A+ 9/10/2000 Stephen Metcalf
The NY Times B+ 20/9/2000 C. Lehmann-Haupt
The NY Times Book Rev. A 8/10/2000 John Sutherland
San Francisco Chronicle . 17/9/2000 Carey Harrison

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all extremely enthusiastic.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Here is a mind that is gentle and fierce all at once, a mind that invites you in, a mind that embodies literature's finest potential: the strength and rigor of formality combined with the flexibility and vigor (the sap) of creativity." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Here she is again, literary but not precious, deep but not ponderous, relevant but not pandering." - Stephen Metcalf, The New York Observer

  • "Yet while these essays are full of arresting turns of phrase, they disappoint somehow, disappearing too often into what Ms. Ozick herself calls the softeness of metaphor. (...) Where Ms. Ozick is best is in the more complex of her ruminations on art's collision with politics." - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

  • "This kind of gathering of leftovers is usually not worth reprinting. Ozick's work is an exception. Her pieces have genuine durability. They are great essays. (...) I'm grateful for the reviewer's privilege of an early copy of Quarrel & Quandary. I urge all lovers of American prose to read it." - John Sutherland, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(I)ndispensable to any reader wondering where the snap and the bite are in contemporary American letters. Ozick's breadth of reference, her wit, incisiveness and classic prose (she may be one of the last authors in America to use the word "enormity" in its traditional sense) turn every page into a literary feast." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Quarrel & Quandary is the fourth American volume collecting Ozick's non-fiction (there is a British volume or two, differently titled, that mixes and matches pieces from the American editions as well). Quarrel & Quandary offers the usual mix of previously published work: a few book reviews, some autobiographical bits, and various musings on subjects mainly literary and Jewish.
       The book begins with some "Forethoughts" (two previous volumes had "Forewords", while Metaphor & Memory came with a "Forewarning"), summing up Ozick's attitude. Setting her sights on "the negative ground" of "the non-transient" -- the "moral and intellectual residue" of events and situations -- Ozick admits to being an "engagé" writer. This engagement with literary, philosophical, and moral issues (among others), is nothing new from Ozick. She explains her priorities:

A reflection on a ladle in a kitchen drawer can outweigh what the President is up to when what the President is up to is too trivial to bear serious contemplation.
       Naturally, this collection includes such a reflection on a ladle -- and none about the doings of the American President (or, for that matter, other politicians).
       Once again familiar faces and subjects crop up in a collection of her essays: perennial favourite Henry James is well covered (and Ozick is always good on James), as well as E.M.Forster, Kafka. There are a few book reviews -- and even a movie review: not surprisingly it is of a Henry James adaptation (Jane Campion's A Portrait of a Lady).
       There are the obligatory autobiographical pieces. In How I got Fired from my Summer Job Ozick writes amusingly of the clash between New Criticism and accounting as she took a job she was clearly not suited for (despite an employer who, she marvels, is named George Berkeley). A Drug Store Eden tells more of her youth and family, while Lovesickness considers, from a personal point of view, the complexities and vagaries of infatuation and love.
       There are interesting literary reflections. The opening piece, Dostoevsky's Unabomber, focusses on the Russian author (and his Raskolnikov). There is a review of Göran Tunström's The Christmas Oratorio, in which she makes the surprising admission that it is only the second Swedish novel she ever read. (While it may not be proper "to think of any novel as a work of national expression" one would have expected someone so widely read to have tried Strindberg's novels, or the works of Lars Gustafsson, Hjalmar Söderberg, or any of a number of the Swedish Nobel laureates. But Ozick's interests lie elsewhere, decidedly outside the Nordic realm.)
       There is an interesting piece on The Impossibility of being Kafka, focussing on the new Breon Mitchell translation of his work (and comparing that to the efforts of the Muirs).
       There is an essay on The Emigrants by W.G.Sebald -- finally a German author other than Thomas Mann that Ozick can embrace. Ozick does her best to de-Germanize the willing exile, reading perhaps a bit more into his biography than is reasonable. She writes, for example:
For a German citizen to live with 1944 as a birth date is reminder enough. Mengele stood that year on the ramp at Auschwitz, lifting the omnipotent gloved hand that dissolved Jewish families (...)
       Ozick's objectivity regarding German matters is always strained, but this (and a few other points in the piece) seem to go too far. Speaking only from personal experience and anecdotal evidence we find no correlation between birthdates and reminders of those times (we were all born in times when horrible events were happening around us). Indeed, Ms. Ozick herself is a Depression-baby (born in 1928) and yet her work is decidedly not coloured by that fact -- being born in 1928 was apparently not "reminder enough". This is not to say that "this ineradicable, inescapable, ever-recurring, hideously retrievable 1944" is not what "Sebald investigates (...) in The Emigrants". Indeed, many authors with other birthdates -- including some very recent ones -- have tackled that year and those times. But we find it hard to believe that a birthdate could weigh so heavily as Ozick suggests.
       The Rights of History and the Rights of Imagination takes an interesting look at Holocaust-literature, especially in light of a few recent cases of invented and misleading memoirs and novels. The bestselling and prize-winning Australian novel The Hand that Signed the Papers by a Helen Demidenko was supposedly based on the experiences of the author's Ukrainian family, but Helen Demidenko turned out to be Helen Darville, daughter of British immigrants, the book obviously not based on their experiences. Binjamin Wilkomirski's acclaimed and prize-winning Fragments: A Childhood purports to be the memoir of a Latvian Jew who lived through terrible horrors in World War II -- but it turns out Wilkomirski was born in Switzerland and was never interned in a camp or anything of the sort. Ozick also looks at Bernhard Schlink's The Reader (an Oprah-choice) and William Styron's Sophie's Choice, making for a useful discussion of a complex issue.
       Perhaps the best known essay in the collection is Who owns Anne Frank ?, in which Ozick considers the famous diary and what has been made of it. First published in The New Yorker (October 6, 1997), the controversial piece goes over the many instances of people muddling with the diary, from father Otto to the outrageous German translation to the infamous play. Ozick is in top form with her criticism here, and most of it is, sadly, deserved. Ozick closes the piece with a surprising thought of a "more salvational outcome" of what might have happened to the diary, an idea even she admits is shocking but which, given the abuse of Frank's words and memory, might, indeed, have been preferable.
       Ozick is not always correct in her strongly voiced and strongly held opinions, but it is always enjoyable and interesting to read her work. Some of her views and expressions seem curiously out of date, as she seems more comfortable in considering Henry James' world than her own. It is therefore not even surprising -- and almost endearing -- to find cultural icon Steven Spielberg's name misspelt (she -- or publisher Knopf -- chose to spell it "Stephen"). One suspects the mistake is made on purpose (especially since the name was, in fact, correctly spelt when the article appeared in The New Yorker) .....
       An interesting collection, almost all the pieces are worthwhile. Typical Ozick, and therefore well worth your time.

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Quarrel & Quandary: 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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© 2000-2021 the complete review

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