By Cynthia Ozick
(Center Point, Hardcover, Large Print, 9781611730135, 335pp.)
Publication Date: March 2011
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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 has been on hold during the many years since her brief marriage. When her estranged, difficult brother asks her to leave New York for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows, she becomes entangled in the lives of her brother's family and even, after so long, her ex-husband. Every one of them is irrevocably changed by the events of just a few months in that fateful year.
Traveling from New York to Paris to Hollywood, aiding and abetting her nephew and niece while waging a war of letters with her brother, facing her ex-husband and finally shaking off his lingering sneers from decades past, Bea Nightingale is a newly liberated divorcee who inadvertently wreaks havoc on the very people she tries to help.
"Foreign Bodies" may be Cynthia Ozick's greatest and most virtuosic novel of all, as it transforms Henry James's prototype into a brilliant, utterly original, new American classic.
- Foreign Bodies is described as a “photographic negative” of Henry James’s classic novel The Ambassadors; in the New York Times, Charles McGrath described the similarities between the two books as “like someone pulling a glove inside-out.” How does Ozick achieve this? What do you think might have been her motivation? And what do you think of re-writing a classic American novel?