Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Cynthia Ozick begins Bloodshed, and Three Novellas with a preface that explores the difficulty of using English to explain Jewish postulates and explains that “Usurpation,” the longest fiction in the book, is “a story written against story-writing, against the Muse-goddesses; against Apollo.” For this author, the act of creation carries the risk of breaking the Second Commandment’s injunction against making idols. Connecting these stories is Ozick’s focus on the problems involved in being Jewish in an essentially pagan, Hellenistic world.

The opening story of this collection, “A Mercenary,” begins by introducing Stanislav Lushinski, “a Pole and a diplomat,” who represents an African country at the United Nations. After surviving the Holocaust, Lushinski adopted as his new country a tropical land far removed from the icy forests of Europe. Further, in his efforts to remake himself, he has acquired an American-German mistress, sets of fake passports, and fame as a humorist on television talk shows. It is Lushinski’s assistant and closest friend, Morris Ngambe, angered by Lushinski’s power to create a war in Africa for economic reasons, who unmasks the diplomat and forces him to face his identity. In a letter to Lushinski, Morris tells a story that reveals his evaluation of Lushinski as an impersonator, a traitor, and, most devastatingly, a Jew. Thus exposed, Lushinski, under African skies, remains entrapped by his memories of Polish stones and snow.

In “A Mercenary,” Lushinski and Ngambe are juxtaposed; in “Bloodshed,” an equally unlikely pair of characters appear. “Bloodshed” begins as the...

(The entire section is 680 words.)