The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick is one of those books that will not let go once you have read it. It is a collection of two inter-linked stories and the impact they will have on any reader is heart-wrenching and stupendous.
The Shawl consists of two stories, “The Shawl” and “Rosa”. The title story is of a woman named Rosa and the death of her child Magda in a concentration camp, at the hands of a guard, due to her niece Stella. The second story – shows the appearance of Rosa, thirty years later in a Miami Hotel as a madwoman and scavenger, remembering what she can of her child.
In both these stories, the shawl is a key element, binding them and reflecting on the times lived – before and after. The Shawl grabs your attention from page one and doesn’t let go. Ozick also beautifully represents the immigrant element through English as a Second Language medium in the second story. She also looks at the complexities of language, class and identity in the Jewish community through these stories.
What I found most amazing was the fact that so much could be said in a mere seventy page book. Sometimes one doesn’t need more words to express the emotion. Rosa is a bitter, psychologically fractured and a woman who doesn’t need anything from anyone. She just wants to be left alone to her madness and that doesn’t seem to happen.
Cynthia Ozick’s writing shines on every page. The book is not an easy read, considering the subject; however Ms. Ozick does not shy away from describing the period of horror, and its impact, even thirty years on. In essence, it is so true, that experiences never let go and Rosa is a befitting example of this.
The Shawl is not a read for the faint-hearted. Like I said Ozick doesn’t mince her words. She is direct. The book makes you wonder: Does the past really leave you or not? The book is just an exquisite tale of human suffering. A cautious read. I recommend it only to those who are interested in something like this.