Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

Since she published her first novel in 1966, Cynthia Ozick has garnered substantial critical acclaim for both her fiction and her essays. Many critics acknowledge that she is a gifted writer, and one of the most important voices in contemporary literature. John Sutherland, in the October 8, 2000, New York...

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Since she published her first novel in 1966, Cynthia Ozick has garnered substantial critical acclaim for both her fiction and her essays. Many critics acknowledge that she is a gifted writer, and one of the most important voices in contemporary literature. John Sutherland, in the October 8, 2000, New York Times Book Review, calls her “the most accomplished and graceful literary stylist of our time.”

Some critics believe, however, that Ozick’s penchant for displaying her own prowess with words interferes with her message. Accusing her of “Parading her erudition like a peacock,” Ilan Stavans, in the July 16, 1999 issue of Times Literary Supplement, notes that while Ozick’s words are meticulously chosen, “their splendour can also get in her way, obstructing the plot, making it morose, dispensable.” Bruce Bawer, in the Wall Street Journal, also mentions that Ozick can be “too preoccupied with intellectual matters for [her] own good,—or, to be specific, for the good of [her] fiction.”

Whatever negative criticism Ozick has received, very little of it has been attached to the two stories featuring Rosa Lublin, “The Shawl” and “Rosa.” Each story won an O. Henry Prize for short fiction when it was first published in the New Yorker (in 1980 and 1983 respectively). In his The Wall Street Journal review of the book The Shawl (which combines both stories in one volume), Bruce Bawer writes, “Ms. Ozick succeeds stunningly in bringing this tragic, demented woman to life.” Critics were especially impressed by Ozick’s sensitive handling of the difficult subject matter. Irving Halperin, in Commonweal, writes, “In a time when the memory of the Holocaust is being trivialized by slick fiction, talk shows, and TV ‘documentaries’ . . . Ms. Ozick’s volume is a particularly welcome achievement of the moral imagination.” Francine Prose in the September 10, 1989 New York Times Book Review says that Ozick “pulls off the rare trick of making art out of what we would rather not see.”

Overall, these two stories featuring Rosa Lublin are considered some of Ozick’s finest work. Both are often included as required reading for students studying the Holocaust.

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Criticism