Two masterful short stories: one depicts the horrors of the Holocaust, the other the lifetime of emptiness that pursues a 'survivor' - by a Pulitzer Prize finalist
The Shawl is considered a modern classic - a masterpiece in two acts. The horror and desolation evoked through piercing imagery - first through the abomination of a Holocaust concentration camp murder, second through the eyes of the murdered child's mother, thirty years later, now 'a madwoman and a scavenger' - offers the reader a chilling insight into the empty suffering of a 'survivor'.
In 'The Shawl', a woman named Rosa Lublin watches a concentration camp guard murder her child, a child barely old enough to walk. The shawl that was the child's security blanket and lone possession reappears in the second story, 'Rosa'. Rosa appears thirty years later, living in a Miami hotel and feeling the strain of a lifetime of pain: the hollowness of seeing her baby killed, of managing her harrowing memories she's being told to forget, and of even now being treated as a specimen and not a human being.
``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. Each story won First Prize in the O. Henry Prize Stories in the year of its publication; each was included in a ``Best American Short Stories'' collection. Together, they form a book that etches itself indelibly in the reader's mind. ``Lublin, Rosa'' (as the main character refers to herself) has lived through the Holocaust; she resents being called a ``survivor'' because she is a ``human being.'' Resettled in Miami in 1977 after years in New York, she does not have a life in the present because her existence was stolen away from her in a past that does not end. Like Bellow's Herzog, Rosa writes letters in her head; but Rosa's are to her dead daughter Magda, whose shawl she has preserved as both talisman and security blanket. Rosa periodically conjures Magda's life at different stages (as a teenager, as a doctor living in Mamaroneck); yet she is haunted by the reality of her baby's murder. Ozick carefully steers the reader through the mazes of Rosa's mind, rendering her life with unsparing emotional intensity.