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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

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,...

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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 responsibility of running the household. The three sons have embraced the willfulness of American children, and the young girl Waltraut regresses emotionally. The family acquires a benefactor of sorts in James A’Bair, a mysterious character who, in his own way, is also a refugee.

James’s father authored an immensely popular series of children’s books with James as the hero (loosely based on A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books about Christopher Robin). James’s childhood was controlled by this fictional character, and now he struggles to escape his past. With a fortune from royalties, he should be free to pursue any goal. He first encounters the Mitwissers in Albany and pretends to be a tutor. Later, he tries acting and then travels with Anneliese as his companion. He finds no solace, however, and eventually commits suicide, leaving Anneliese, pregnant, to return to her family.

Bertram enters into the mix. Once financially stable, he has been brought low by his association with Ninel and, using his acquaintance with Rose, moves in with the Mitwissers. He soon becomes indispensable, even marrying Anneliese in order to provide a father for her child.

While the novel seems to be centered on Rose, she is more of an observer of the Mitwisser world, rather than a participant in her own world. At the novel’s end, she leaves, but it is uncertain what she is going toward.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 21 (July 1, 2004): 1800.

Entertainment Weekly, September 3, 2004, p. 80.

Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 13 (July 1, 2004): 600.

Library Journal 129, no. 12 (July 15, 2004): 73.

Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2004, p. R3.

The New Republic 231, no. 16 (October 18, 2004): 34.

The New York Times Book Review 153 (September 5, 2004): 12.

Publishers Weekly 251, no. 32 (August 9, 2004): 228.

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