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Foreign Bodies

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  1,179 ratings  ·  230 reviews
Cynthia Ozick is one of America's literary treasures. For her sixth novel, she set herself a brilliant challenge: to retell the story of Henry James's The Ambassadors—the work he considered his best—but as a photographic negative, that is the plot is the same, the meaning is reversed. At the core of the story is Bea Nightingale, a fiftyish divorced schoolteacher whose life ...more
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published November 1st 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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Ozick's writing is lovely. Its subject and many of its sentiments are ugly. I know it’s often considered acceptable to lambast your own when you’re alone together but in 1950’s France and, let’s face it, even now, it was too soon to denigrate Jews who’d lost everyone and everything they’d loved just because they were so broken. In Ozick’s book the sleights are almost uglier because they’re coming from a second generation immigrant who’s acting on his sense of shame from coming from what he consi ...more
Many critics slaved over the comparison of Foreign Bodies to Henry James The Ambassadors. It's been so long since I've read Ambassadors that it did not affect my experience with this novel. Instead all my attention focused on the ordinary yet intriguing characters of Bea, Lilly and Iris (not Julian or Marvin, as much). I marvel at the imagination, insight and skill of a writer who can spin together just the right threads to create the whole cloth character that seems a living, breathing human. O ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
One-sentence summary: Bea Nightingale, school teacher, becomes embroiled in lives of her niece, nephew, and brother when she's asked to fetch said nephew from Paris.

Did... I hate every character in this book and yet, still care about what happened?: YES. It's a little freaky, actually, how Ozick did that.

Did... I read this book in about 1.5 days?: YES, both because the pacing is pretty snappy and because it's a brief 272 pages!

Did... I want to move to Paris after reading this?: YES, although
Paul Jellinek
I really wanted to love this book. Cynthia Ozick is an incredibly gifted writer, and Henry James' "The Ambassadors," the explicit inspiration for this book, is one of my all-time favorite novels. Yet despite some beautifully-written passages, it doesn't come off. At times, especially when the main character's blustering brother Marvin appears (mostly through a series of imperious letters), "Foreign Bodies" reads almost like a spoof or parody of "The Ambassadors," while at other times, as in the ...more
She is really a wonderful writer with a unique presentation and style. However I did not rate this higher as I liked none of the characters, not at all or even a little bit. They all had significant flaws and I found the reading experience unpleasant as they were just all so annoying. I did not care really what happened to any of them although I was curious enough to finish the rather short book and had hopes that they would change a little or something other than what they were throughout.
I hav
There is a ponderousness to this novel that isn't immediately apparent while first reading it. Ozick's prose is terribly light -- she dances from mood to mood and point to point throughout the 250 pages, like the scherzo she allows Leo to witness in Iris. And yet beneath words that trip and dance across the page, there is a heaviness. There is little action in this story, with it's many interwoven deceptions and the long weeks of waiting, with conversations that are dreaded and truths that are h ...more
Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies is the first book I read completely on my smartphone while riding the bus from NYC to my home in NJ. As much as I had hoped to like reading on my Kindle (or my smartphone Kindle app), I found that looking at a series of screens is not the same as turning paper pages in a book. It’s somehow harder to keep the whole of the book in mind while only the smallest smidgen of it shows itself. So I pretty much choose to read every book in paper format. But when faced with t ...more
Bonnie Brody
Cynthia Ozick, author of The Shawl and Trust: A Novel, two of my favorite books, has written a gem of a novel in Foreign Bodies. A slithering and taut comedy of errors, this book examines issues of betrayal and trust, literal and emotional exile, regret and rage, Judaism in post-World War II Europe and the meaning of art in one's life. While based on themes similar to Henry James' The Ambassadors, this novel is distinctly and uniquely Ozick's.

It is 1952 and 48 year-old Bea Nightingale has been t
Perhaps I expected too much, was so pleased to find something by this author,of whom quite recently I have read excellent reviews. Perhaps it was the rather turgid writing,obscure and convoluted rather than bouyant and clear.Maybe it was just the lack of sympathy that I felt for any of the characters,including the smug narrator. Unlikely as the premises of the plot, given that,I felt much more could have been done to convey the moral lessons that the reader is asked to explore.
But I didn´t reall
Beth Bonini
A friend described this book to me in the following way: "Well, I didn't like it and I didn't get it, but maybe it's just too American." This book IS indeed American in the sense that the main characters are American and the author is America -- and some of it is set in America, although quite a lot of it is set in 1950s Paris -- but I didn't like it or get it, either. Even though I'm American. I didn't really understand the point of the characters OR the story. None of it seemed real. The writi ...more
In Foreign Bodies, a novel by Cynthia Ozick, Bea and Marvin are estranged middle-aged siblings, Bea a teacher, Marvin a tycoon; Bea a New Yorker, Marvin now a Californian. Marvin has no right in the world to demand that Bea drop everything and find out what's going on with his twenty-something son, Julian, in Paris. But that's what he does. And Bea subverts her summer trip a bit to accommodate his wishes.

She gets nowhere. Throughout the novel Bea plays a role analogous to Strether in Henry James
Justin Evans
Start with a recommendation from David Foster Wallace; add in a novel that got a lot to do with one of my five favorite novels (James' Ambassadors)... well, you'd think I'd love it. And yet, I conclude, meh.

First the fun stuff (fun, at least, for people like me): Ozick takes James' 'ficelle,' the character who exists only to let the plot carry on doing what it needs to do, and turns her into the main character. I always fall in love with James' ficelles (usually single/'oldmaid'30ish women who
"Foreign Bodies", Cynthia Ozick's latest novel, is a brilliant twist on Henry James's "The Ambassadors". Set nearly three-quarters of century after James's novel, immediately after World War II, "Foreign Bodies" can be seen as the former's mirror image. However, that would be a most simplistic - if not derivative - means of describing it, especially when Ozick has created one of the most memorable characters I have encountered in recent contemporary fiction; Bea Nightingale. Simultaneously irasc ...more
Kristine Brancolini
Foreign Bodies is populated with some of the most unlikeable characters I have encountered in quite some time, but I loved this book. I've been trying to analyze why since I finished it yesterday. I can't believe this is my first Cynthia Ozick book. She is a wonderful writer. The plot is loosely based upon The Ambassadors, but now I'm dying to re-read that book because I believe that the links between the two books are substantial.

Ozick has created a cast of fascinating characters, with brother
Wow, I read the first page and thought to myself "How have I not heard of Cynthia Ozick before? This is going to be the best book I've read in ages, I can just feel it!" Sadly, it did not sustain the initial wave of excitement it caused me. How can someone make Paris seem dull? She does it. The insufferable nephew, eek! If done right, characters can be insufferable and still able to add to the story. This guy was just a limp and listless character. What the hell was his wife doing with him? Why ...more
So, it keeps being described as a 'photo-negative of Henry James's The Ambassadors' which ...

I stopped reading it about 1/3 of the way through (despite enjoying it) feeling like perhaps I was missing out on liking it even more by never having read The Ambassadors. Worst mistake ever! At some point I am going to have to admit to myself that I will never, ever enjoy a book by Henry James and that, unlike Sam I Am, this is not due to lack of exposure but the fact that we just don't click. But every
Leigh Hancock
If you like Henry James, you'll probably like this book, although it's slightly jumpier than, say, The Wings of the Dove. Ozick loves delving into her characters' minds and she does so beautifully, just like James, with surprising and real and unexpected results. That's all good. And I do like novels set in Europe shortly after World War II.

But the main problem (for me) was that I didn't like any of these characters: the spinsterish Bea who can't seem to tell her brother and ex-husband to f--off
Fascinating reading this hitherto unknown to me USA writer. She uses multiple points of view in a third person narration so I sometimes had to check who was there but the characters are lively. Set in New York, LA and Paris in the early 1950's, the disparate characters are linked by a music theme personified by a grand piano that dominates Bea's NY apartment and her divorced husband's music composition. Meanwhile, the younger generation go off to Paris but do not find enlightenment there while b ...more
I read this because it was supposed to be a shadow of Henry James' The Ambassadors --- updated to the 50s and with gender reversals. Unfortunately, I found all the characters massively irritating --- Bea (in the Lambert Streather role) is sent to Pairs by her incredibly obnoxious brother to rescue Julian who is the brother's son. Bea (like Streather) has her life changed by the journey (oh yawn). Why Bea didn't flip her brother the bird and tell him to do his own dirty work is an example of the ...more
Sue Powell
One of the oddest books I've ever read, partly because of her use of language, and partly because of the nature of the story itself. It is a very clever book, and compels you to read to the end, but for me, it's cleverness was it's undoing. Impossible to believe that a character like Marvin would express himself in the way that he does in his letters to his sister, or even that he would write such letters. I also found it hard to believe in the way the siblings spoke to their Aunt, and how they ...more
This is one of those books where I appreciated individual passages, sometimes entire pages, but where the book, as a whole, left me with the knowledge that I would be unlikely to want to reread it.

I think the reason is that I simply didn't understand most characters.

Let me start with a summary of the story : Bea Nightingale is in her late forties, long-divorced after a brief marriage. Her brother Marvin asks her to use her vacation in Paris to locate, and bring home his son Julian, who has moved
As much as I find The Ambassadors kind of ridiculous, I found myself comparing Ozick's riff on the plotline very unfavorably to it. Personal taste, I'm sure. But there's so much charm in the James version of the story, and this is a version that seems determined to be as charmless as possible.
I picked up Foreign Bodies as a follow-up to my experience with The Puttermesser Papers, not apparently what Ozick is known for, but a great story to me. I never read The Ambassadors so it didn't/couldn't color my perceptions one way or another.

Maybe I would've gotten more out of the story if I had read the book it alluded to. Although Ozick is without question an amazing writer, the storyline seemed stilted to me. I know it's hard to try to convey a plot in epistolary form (as this book does,
Terri Jacobson
An interesting novel based on Henry James's book The Ambassadors, "in which the plot is the same but the meaning is reversed." (Reading this has motivated me to read the Henry James original) Very well-written. The plot and characters are well-developed, and the book can be analyzed for symbolism and deeper meanings. A very enjoyable read.
Lara Maynard
Oh the tangled web of Aunt Bea! -- and Marvin, Julian, Iris, Lili, Leo and Margaret. Foreign Bodies has elements of dark comedy, of coming-of-age, of the immigrant novel, of pathos and of family drama. Displacement, deception, interference, interconnection. This is a literary novel for lovers of writerly writing, and will likely offer a few new words for your vocabulary along with the memorable characters of the fairly messed up Nachtigall/Nightingale family in America and abroad in France.

I hav
I hadn't read the Henry James associated with this novel. Didn't like any of the characters. Bea reminded me a bit of the character in Notes on a Scandal. Just got bored because I didn't feel the story was going anywhere - perhaps that was it's charm!
Bill H.
A somewhat slow and rewarding read, as Ozick works her family theme: how people who are different and don't really like each other are bound by blood, and will even feel an obligation. A middle-aged, divorced school teacher in NYC looks up a nephew living in Paris in response to her arrogant, rich brother's command to bring the boy back. (Hence the connection to Henry James' Ambassadors.) She and the boy's sister--sent over with the same task--fail to bring him back, more family members are intr ...more
I enjoyed this book, it is well written and told. This is a character driven novel, it is concerned with people and their interactions. Their actions are based on who they are much more than any external events. All the characters have flaws, dreams, problems and worries, just like real people, but even the unpleasant, bullying Marvin is sometimes sympathetic.
The plot of the book is loosely based on Henry James's novel "The Ambassadors", although perhaps only the character of Iris could have bee
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick evokes Henry James' The Ambassadors. In the role of the middle-aged New England Protestant Louis Lambert Strether of 1903, is the long-divorced Jewish American school teacher, Beatrice Nachtigall, now Miss Nightingale in 1952. The boy who has attached himself to an older woman in Paris is her nephew, Julian, and the juxtaposition of American innocence and European experience is made flesh in the person of Lili, an underfed Romanian widow displaced by World War II. ...more
“Her guidebook showed no concern for the tourist’s bladder…” (5).
“It was comical and it was awful. Suicide, charlatanism, vegetables” (63).
“These coddled Californians, with no inkling of endurance. They had lived without winter” (77).
“…rose-mobbed trellises…” (87).
“But the Margaret who stood before Bea now was all flicker and twitch, an engine pumping mechanical civilities” (89).
“He was pacing before one of the tall front windows, tall enough to serve a cathedral. In this house everything was ov
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Bailey's/Orange W...: * July Archive Book Foreign Bodies 16 17 Jul 29, 2014 03:40AM  
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Recipient of the first Rea Award for the Short Story (in 1976; other winners Rea honorees include Lorrie Moore, John Updike, Alice Munro), an American Academy of Arts and Letters Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award, and the PEN/Malamud award in 2008.

Upon publication of her 1983 The Shawl, Edmund White wrote in the New York Times, "Miss Ozick strikes me as the best American writer to have emerg
More about Cynthia Ozick...
The Shawl Heir to the Glimmering World The Puttermesser Papers The Messiah of Stockholm Dictation: A Quartet

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