The Shawl

Author: Cynthia Ozick
Translator: Esra Birkan

Depicting both the horrors of the Holocaust and the lifetime of emptiness that pursues a survivor, ‘The Shawl’ and ‘Rosa’ recall the psychological and emotional scars of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

“The Shawl” is a brief story first published in the New Yorker in 1981; “Rosa,” its longer companion piece, appeared in that magazine three years later. They tell a story of a woman who survived the Holocaust but who has no life in the present because her existence was stolen away from her in a past that does not end. “A book that etches itself indelibly in the reader’s mind,”

This is actually a five-page prologue and an extended short story. Aside from that, Ozick gives us exactly what we expect: a meditation, in figurative language at times dense and shimmering, at times richly colloquial, of the consequences of the Holocaust. Accompanied by her niece and hiding her tiny daughter, Magda, Rosa stumbles toward a concentration camp, where Magda is to die, flung against an electrified fence. Years later, in America, we meet “Rosa Lublin, a madwoman and a scavenger, who gave up her store–smashed it up herself–and moved to Miami.” She still writes to her dead daughter, whose shawl she covets. When Rosa meets brash, voluble Simon Persky at the laundromat, she resists his arguments that “you can’t live in the past” with some persuasive arguments of her own. Indeed, the reader is uncertain to the end whether Rosa will bend–and whether she ought to. A subtle yet morally uncompromising tale that many will regard as a small gem.

Barbara Hoffert, “Library Journal”