Picks and Pans Review: The Messiah of Stockholm

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Cynthia Ozick

Here is an arresting, original puzzle of a novel, written in an abrupt, piercing style. The hero is Lars Andemening, a columnist on cultural matters for a Stockholm newspaper. Lars's two marriages have failed and his only child has been taken to America by her mother. He is obsessed by the belief that he is the son of Bruno Schulz, a Polish writer killed by the Nazis. Andemening stumbles onto a tiny bookshop, whose owner finds a Polish teacher for him and then begins to turn up letters from Schulz. Eventually a woman shows up at the bookstore with a manuscript called The Messiah. She says that Schulz was her father and that this is his third and greatest work. Is the manuscript authentic? Is the bookstore owner in league with a master forger? Ozick has created a Stockholm that is unbearably cold and wet; the mice in the newspaper building are militant in their nightly forays in search of books to nibble. The characters are intense in arbitrary and inhuman ways. Ozick seems to have absorbed the essence of those strange Middle Eastern writers who create a whole universe in a vacuum. The orphan desperate to know his father, a familiar theme of fairy tales and myths, is made magical once again by the author of The Cannibal Galaxy and several books of short stories. (Knopf, $15.95)

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