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The Messiah of Stockholm has a dual purpose: It is Ozick’s tribute to Bruno Schulz, the legendary Polish author of Sklepy Cynamonowe (1934; Cinnamon Shops, and Other Stories, 1963) killed by the Nazis in a mass slaying. The Messiah of Stockholm also focuses on the aspect of human nature that craves knowledge of the past in order to have a basis upon which to mold a perception of the present. The deeply human need to have a personal, as well as a cultural, history is one theme winding through this complex novel; this need for a self-history directs the path that orphaned Lars Andemening’s life follows.

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Ozick’s third novel, set in the frigid city of Stockholm, Sweden, is a chilling story of one man’s desperate search and struggle to create a rational past for himself. Lars, who selected his name from a dictionary, seeks help from a cast of other World War II refugees who also have public identities of their own choosing. Not all the secondary characters are refugees, however; those in Lars’s world fall into two distinct categories: colleagues with factual pasts from the “stewpot” where he works, and refugees from the bookstore with fictional histories. Lars seeks out members of the latter group to help him discover his own indeterminable origins. Obsessed with his search for verification of something impossible to verify, Lars is incapable of establishing lasting relationships with anyone from either category.

His lack of any family history is considered cause, at least by one of his former mothers-in-law, for Lars’s lack of success in both his personal and professional life. His daughter lives in America; a dried-up childhood paint set is Lars’s only remaining connection with her. He only chose to keep the paints because of Schulz, who had been an art teacher as well as a writer; Lars hoped to see some of his “father’s” talent genetically passed on to his daughter.

Lars’s obsession with Schulz invades his consciousness awake or asleep, the latter being when Lars sees “as if he lets me have his [Schulz’s] own eye to look through.” In his fixation with discovering his past, he searches relentlessly for photographs, letters, reviews—any tangible connection with the...

(The entire section contains 569 words.)

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