(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Heir to the Glimmering World, Cynthia Ozick examines what it means to be an exile or a refugee. The first refugee whom the reader encounters is Rose Meadows, who escapes from the unsettling world of her prevaricating father. Her mother died in childbirth, if she believes her father, or died when Rose was about three, if she trusts her own faint memories. Sent to live with Bertram, a distant cousin, she reluctantly attends a teachers’ college in Albany; she would much prefer to study literature. When Bertram begins an affair with the radical Ninel (Lenin spelled backward), Rose must leave. With no other options, she accepts a position with the Mitwisser family, even though it is unclear exactly what she will be doing, and moves to the Bronx with them.

The Mitwissers are also refugees. They have recently fled Nazi Germany, leaving their language, culture, and careers. The family has trouble coping with the New World. Rudolf, the father, is no longer esteemed as a scholar of the Karaites, a Jewish community who rejected rabbinical interpretation and accepted the Scriptures literally. Rudolf attains a position at a college with the help of Quakers, but it is with a mistaken understanding of his speciality. His wife, Elsa, previously a physicist who studied elementary particles, now takes to her bed and is possibly insane. With different degrees of success, their five children are dealing with the displacement. Anneliese, the oldest, assumes the...

(The entire section is 514 words.)