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Foreign Bodies [Paperback]

Cynthia Ozick
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

1 April 2012
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.

The collapse of her brief marriage has stalled Bea Nightingale's life, leaving her middle-aged and alone, teaching in an impoverished borough of 1950s New York. A plea from her estranged brother gives Bea the excuse to escape lassitude by leaving for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows; but the siren call of Europe threatens to deafen Bea to the dangers of entangling herself in the lives of her brother's family. Travelling from America to France, Bea leaves the stigma of divorce on the far side of the Atlantic; newly liberated, she chooses to defend her nephew and his girlfriend Lili by waging a war of letters on the brother she has promised to help. But Bea's generosity is a mixed blessing: those she tries to help seem to be harmed, and as Bea's family unravel from around her, she finds herself once again drawn to the husband she thought she had left in the past...

By one of America's great living writers, Foreign Bodies is a truly virtuosic novel. The story of Bea's travails on the continent is a fierce and heartbreaking insight into the curious nature of love: how it can be commanded and abused; earned and cherished; or even lost altogether.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848877366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848877368
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 132,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

It would be a mistake not to read this wonderful novel. --Sunday Telegraph

Superb ... the relationship between ingenue raw America and elder, cultivated Europe makes [one] turn the pages, fascinated and absorbed. --The Times

Ozick is possessed of a voice distinctly her own... Foreign Bodies is a brilliantly mordant examination of displacement and inheritance. --Guardian

About the Author

Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. She is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize. Her stories have won four O. Henry first prizes. She currently lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
"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 irascible and likeable, Nightingale is a veritable force of nature, whose presence disrupts the lives of those around her. She's sent on an errand by her estranged brother to look after his son, her ne'er-do-well nephew, in postwar Paris. There she meets not only her nephew, but his lover, an Eastern European refugee. How she becomes involved with her nephew and his lover is one I'll keep a secret, but it is a secret well worth uncovering via Ozick's elegant ear for dialogue and sparse, but lyrical, descriptive prose. Hers is definitely among the most remarkable literary achievements I have read within recent years. Without question, Ozick has written a modern American literary classic that pays ample homage to its predecessor in spirit, if not in its literary style and content, and yet it is a classic that demonstrates her own unique, quite captivating, literary voice.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Poor Second 5 July 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies

The plot is borrowed from Henry James's The Ambassadors, but there the resemblance ends. This is a book that was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (2012) and it comes with many commendations, including The Times `s assurance that Ozick's eleventh novel is `breathtaking ... a superb story about the reversal of world order and identities.' I'm inclined to agree with the Guardian that `Ozick is possessed of a voice distinctly her own', but when that voice grates on the reader's nerves as this one does most would prefer Henry James's. True, someone should have taught Henry James how to write simple English, just as someone should have told Dickens that sentimentality in fiction is nauseating. Never mind the Orange Prize nomination, the book must be a contender for the greatest number of rhetorical questions in a work of fiction.

The plot, like the prose, is somewhat convoluted, but, to simplify, it deals with the contrast between a heavy father, Marvin Nachtigall, a self-made man of business with no time for aesthetic sensibilities and his no good son, Julien, who escapes from American materialism to the softer, easygoing life of Paris. The angry father then orders his sister, Bea, to bring his son back. When this venture fails his daughter, Iris, repeats the abortive attempt. Both women, however, become seduced by Parisian culture, although Aunt Bea is at first rejected by her niece, who shelters her brother and his new waif-wife, Lili, a Romanian refugee.

The story is told mainly through the eyes of Bea, who, as her name implies goes about doing good - or, rather, trying to - much to the fury of her control freak brother Marvin, an impotent rage-filled observer, whose ambassadors consistently fail him.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Foreign Bodies" is the sixth novel by Cynthia Ozick, the highly-respected award-winning American author. With it, she has set herself an interesting challenge: to use the plot of Henry James' The Ambassadors - which he is said to have considered his best work; but to turn the plot around, giving it new meanings. And she's chosen to set the book among Jewish-Americans in the early 1950's, the McCarthy years of loyalty oaths.

Protagonist of the story is Bea Nightingale, fiftyish, divorced New York City English teacher, who has more or less put her life on hold since her divorce. She's estranged from her rich, social climbing, nasty brother Marvin, who lives in Los Angeles, California, and from her ex-husband, who lives rather near him. But she gets an urgent letter from her brother: to please go to Paris, France, and bring back his errant son Julian. She finds Julian, though rather young, married to Lili, an older refugee from Eastern Europe. This trip opens Bea's floodgates: she finds herself jetting from New York to Paris to Hollywood. She becomes more involved than she's ever been with her brother, his wife Margaret, his son, and daughter Iris, and even her ex. And unexpected things keep popping.

Ozick has here done a tour de force, producing a novel that stands very well on its own, and is, in fact, a pleasure to read. It's witty, concise, full of excellent description of very particular people and places. Paris has rarely looked better. Furthermore, I didn't find it at all heavy going, and it kept my interest. I am not familiar with the Henry James work that inspired her, so I really can't speak to the relationship between these books.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What a terrible family! 31 July 2012
By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
It is the 1950s and Bea Nightingale has taken leave from her teaching job in New York to visit Europe. Her dominating brother Marvin has inveigled her into finding his wayward son Julian who is "somewhere in Paris" and to persuade him to return home. She looks for him and fails in the task. She returns to New York and expects that she will hear no more from Marvin or the rest of his family. But Marvin is not put off so easily and attempts to bully Bea into travelling to France once more. The fact that she has a job to do is of no interest to him.

Bea has had little to do with her brother and his family for years but in the course of the book their lives overlap continually. Also emerging from long ago is her husband, a self-centred man who has found some success as a writer of film music.

Foreign Bodies begins superbly and I was immediately drawn into the shabby post-war atmosphere of Paris. It was easy to understand that Julian preferred a bohemian life with some vague ideas about writing rather than be in California in the stultifying company of his father. However as the book progressed I became more and more irritated by the characters. Bea is obviously a bright and independent woman so it seems odd that she didn't just tell her brother to get out of her life. Similarly she seems to be prepared to put up with incredible rudeness from both her ex-husband and her nephew and niece.

The writing, however, is terrific and apart from loathing most of the characters I enjoyed the book. I assume that the "foreign bodies" are not the Parisians or even Romanian Lili - but her own flesh and blood.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Book kept me engrossed, wondering the outcome.
Left me with plenty to think about too.
Can imagine the situation and choices faced.
Published 10 months ago by JaneE
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This was a very disappointing book. The idea for the storyline was quite good but I never felt as though I really cared about any of the characters and the pace was very slow and... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Foreign Bodies in America and France
A fairly dense read about a dysfunctional family situation to which many 21st century readers can relate. I shall recommend it to freinds
Published 10 months ago by rosie1
3.0 out of 5 stars Too descriptive
The story is set in the 1950s and switches between New York and Paris. It follows the main character, Bea as she goes to Paris to "rescue" a nephew she barely knows. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Deathly boring
The blurb on the back of the book promised much. For me it was never delivered. The men were odious and one dimensional and I could not understand why the main character would... Read more
Published 19 months ago by mrs r l savidge
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
A very interesting book which has given me the information I needed. It arrived on time and was well packaged.
Published 19 months ago by Kate
4.0 out of 5 stars Foreign Bodies
I liked this book although it does explore the problems of
separation of families in America which can often result from
a desire to achieve or to escape. Read more
Published 20 months ago by ROY
1.0 out of 5 stars An empty display of verbal fireworks
"In the early fifties of the last century a ferocious heat wave assaulted Europe". So begins the second chapter. Read more
Published 21 months ago by patrician
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many stereotypes
So many of the characters are stereotypes: the driven businessman with his trophy wife, his squashed son with his battered survivor wife, the put-upon teacher with her hidden... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Dr. S. W. Waydenfeld
2.0 out of 5 stars Did I miss something?
I have a very strange feeling that something, somewhere in this book has passed me by. Well written, but....what's the point? There are readers who think this book is wonderful. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Mrs P J Fenton
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