Monday, June 1, 2009

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

This is week's short story comes from Cynthia Ozick, an author who has been on my 'to read' list for far too long.  The Shawl, first published in The New Yorker in 1981,  is a harsh, brutal story set in a concentration camp during World War II.   It opens:
"Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell.  How they walked on the roads together, Rosa with Magda curled up between sore breasts, Magda wound up in the shawl."
Rosa, her infant daughter Magda, and 14 year old niece Stella are prisoners at a concentration camp.  Magda, silent and hidden in the shawl, is unknown to the German soldiers.  Food is scarce.  It is presumed that Magda will die.

"It was a magic shawl, it could nourish an infant for three days and three nights. ... Rosa knew Magda was going to die very soon; she should have been dead already, but she had been buried away deep inside the magic shawl, mistaken there for the shivering mound of Rosa's breasts; Rosa clung to the shawl as if it covered only herself.  No one took it away from her.  Madga was mute. She never cried."

Rosa's fears are realized when Madga is eventually discovered.  Written with spare prose, the ending of this story is truly horrifying. 

The story is paired with a novella entitled "Rosa" and published as The Shawl.  "Rosa" picks up thirty years later, as she has survived the Holocaust and is living in the United States. This short book may be a good choice for the next read-a-thon.

Teddy Rose is hosting Short Story Monday this week.  Check here to see who else has a story to share. 


  1. Did you read the novella yet? It's sooo good! This short story is very harsh. The novella balances it out so you're not so depressed.


  2. Lezlie,
    No, I haven't read it yet. The short story was in a collection I own, but I'll need to get the book from the library. I'm so glad to hear that the novella isn't as harsh. I don't think I would have been able to handle the story if it had been much longer. I'm heading over to my library's website now...

  3. Great review! I will have to check this out, I actually have the novella on my TBR.

  4. You won my give away! I have emailed you and will send your choice off as soon as I get your address. Please let me know if you want any others besides the ones you listed in your comment on my blog.

  5. Teddy Rose - I've got the novella coming from the library. Lezlie says it balances out the short story in that it's not quite so harsh, so I'm really looking forward to it!

    Kim - Hurray!! Thank you so much! I've just e-mailed my address to you.

  6. I'm , have the book on the shelf. The description almost reminds me of Irene Nemirovsky.

  7. Matt - Yes, I didn't think of that, but I can see some similarities. It'll be interesting to see how they compare once I've read the novella.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails