- Ann Haley
The jacket notes of Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick promise readers that the novel they have picked up will "retrace the story of Henry James's The Ambassadors --- the work he considered his best --- but as a photographic negative, in which the plot is the same but the meaning is reversed." A tip of the hat to James promises Americans in Europe, and sure enough Ozick's tale involves one Bea Nightingale and her efforts to track and retrieve a nephew gone astray in post-World War II Paris.
Bea's journey [beginning in the summer of 1952] takes her inside the lives of her brother's family, forces her to retrace the path of her own life, and expands her world view as she comes into intimate contact with Europe's "ghosts," the waves of refugees displaced, wounded who have "washed up in Paris," the war "still in them."
The novel works on so many levels: in retrospect, for me, most memorable are the extended, ostensibly estranged, yet inter-dependent family Ozick portrays and the power we wield, through acts and omissions, over those closest to us. In fact, at the very end she has Bea think: "How hard it is to change one's life. And again she thought: How terrifyingly simple to change the lives of others."
I totally agree with the New York Times editors who named Foreign Bodies as one of the best books of 2010. It's definitely a work that deserves more than a single reading, but first I plan to find Mr. James's Ambassadors.