The Puttermesser Papers

Cynthia Ozick's response to Chick Lit.

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Puttermesser is so firmly rooted in Jewish history that her life could easily be a mini-course in modern European Jewry and the immigration experience. After reading Ozick's chapter about Xanthippe, Puttermesser's golem, readers will be well-versed in the historic golem legends and the history of the Jews of Prague. Puttermesser's relationship with Lidia, the Soviet cousin who comes to stay with her but decides she prefers Russia, can be read as Ozick's somewhat snide commentary on the expectations of Soviet Jewish immigrants to the United States and the Americans who so desperately, and maybe misguidedly, want to help them. Even Puttermesser's own move from her parents' home in the Bronx to her own apartment on Manhattan's East Side can be seen as a typically Jewish saga of "making it" in New York--leaving behind the old Jewish enclave in favor of a place of her own. Even Puttermesser's version of heaven seems particularly Jewish: it is a place where she finally has a child, circumcises him, loses him, and ends up as alone as she was in life.

Overall, The Puttermesser Papers is a whirlwind of both comedy and tragedy, a novel so intriguing that is hard to put down and that so critically examines its main character it is hard to know whether to sympathize with her or be disgusted by her. Ozick, perhaps more than any other writer today, is equally at home as a novelist and a literary and social critic, and The Puttermesser Papers leaves no doubt that she is a master at both.

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Rebecca Phillips is a producer at Beliefnet.com, the multifaith religion and spirituality website. She lives in New York City.