Read The Messiah of Stockholm Online

Authors: Cynthia Ozick

The Messiah of Stockholm


Fiction by Cynthia Ozick:

Foreign Bodies


Heir to the Glimmering World

The Puttermesser Papers

The Shawl The Messiah of Stockholm

The Cannibal Galaxy

Levitation: Five Fictions

Bloodshed and Three Novellas

The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories


First published in the United States of America in 1987 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

This edition published in Great Britain in 2013 by Atlantic Books,
an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Cynthia Ozick, 1987

The moral right of Cynthia Ozick to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Paperback ISBN: 978 0 85789 977 4
EBook ISBN: 978 0 85789 978 1

Printed in Great Britain

Atlantic Books
An Imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ


Philip Roth

My father never tired of glorifying this extraordinary element—matter.

“There is no head matter,” he taught us.
“Life-lessness is only a disguise behind which hide unknown forms of life. The range of these forms is infinite and their shades and nuances limitless. The Demiurge was in possession of
important and interesting creative recipes.
Thanks to them, he created a multiplicity of species which renew themselves by their own devices. No one knows whether these recipes will ever be reconstructed. But this is unnecessary, because
even if the classical methods of creation should prove inaccessible for evermore, there still remain some illegal methods, an infinity of heretical and criminal methods.”


Bruno Schulz,
The Street of Crocodiles

Jag är stjärnan som speglar sig i dig.

. . .

Din själ är mitt hem. Jag har inget annat.


I am the star that mirrors itself in you.

. . .

Your soul is my home. I have no other.


Pär Lagerkvist,

(Translated by W. H. Auden and Leif Sjöberg)




















afternoon—the hour when, all over the world, the Literary stewpot boils over, when gossip in the book-reviewing departments of
newspapers is most untamed and swarming, and when the autumn sky over Stockholm begins to draw down a translucent dusk (an eggshell shielding a blue-black yolk) across the spired and watery
town—at this lachrymose yet exalted hour, Lars Andemening could be found in bed, napping. Not that there was anyone to look for him there. He had no wife; his apartment was no bigger than a
crack in the wall, and any visitor a biennial event; and the quilt, heaped on itself in large knots, was a risen tangle that might or might not have hinted at the presence of Lars under it. As it
happened, he was there nearly every afternoon from November to early in a certain bare and harrowing March, when he gave it up; but no one knew.

He lived a ten-minute walk from the
, his employer—a relatively young newspaper of unsettled character, in competition for the morning trade with the majestic old
Dagens Nyheter
and the respectable
Svenska Dagbladet
. Lars himself was, at least in appearance, relatively young; he was forty-two and looked much younger, probably because he was
spare and showed bone, and had no belly at all under his belt buckle. But also there was something in his face that opened into unripeness—a tentativeness, an unfinished tone. The hand of an
indifferent maker had smeared his mouth and chin Adam’s apple. He was often dealt with as if he were just starting out, heaving his greening masculine forces against life.

The truth was he had been married not once but twice, and both times had lived, a decade all told, in a presentable flat with proper furniture: a crystal chandelier with the first wife, a
sleigh-bed with the second, and, with both, scattered low candles in glass balls lit and pulsing at dusk. He had behind him much of the ordinary bourgeois predicament, and had lost it not through
intention but through attrition. Neither wife had liked him for long. Birgitta complained that there was something irregular—undigested—in his spirit. Ulrika fought him and stole their
daughter from him; he heard from the doleful woman who had been his mother-in-law that they had gone to America. His ex-mother-in-law had no anger for him—she thought him a kind of

Ulrika’s mother was not intelligent, but she was not far wrong. Lars Andemening believed himself to be an arrested soul: someone who has been pushed off a track. He belonged elsewhere. His
name was his own fabrication. He had told almost no one—not his wives during all those years, and none of his colleagues at the
, where he was a once-a-week
reviewer—what he understood about himself: that he was the son of a murdered man, a man shot down in the streets over forty years ago, in Poland, while the son was still in the mother’s
womb. It was a thing he knew and kept buried. There was something dangerous in it, not only because it did not conform—he had been seized in infancy by an unnatural history—but because
this father of his was a legend, a dream; or, more exactly, an errant seed thrown back by a corpse. Lars had never learned his mother’s name, but his father had become his craze.

His father, a high school art teacher who had lived obscurely in an obscure Galician town, was the author of certain peculiar tales. His name was Bruno Schulz.

For the sake of these tales Lars had saturated himself in Polish, at first on his own, and afterward with an eccentric elderly Polish woman, a retired professor of literature from the University
of Cracow; she had escaped to Stockholm with her Jewish husband in the uproar of 1968. Her origins, she said, were high, a family of old blood, used to rigor and noblesse oblige—she would
give him his money’s worth. She pressed her pupil hard, thrusting Lars from his primer straight into the bosky forests of the between-the-wars modernists. By now Lars was quick enough. He
read with a clumsy tongue but a lightning eye, in pursuit of his father’s tales.

On account of his father Lars shrank himself. He felt he resembled his father: all the tales were about men shrinking more and more into the phantasmagoria of the mind. One of them was about a
man in his sleep, his fall into the bedclothes—like a swimmer against the current; like the captive of a great bowl of dough.


old married ways, Lars had kept nothing but his little daughter’s paint set. The telephone on which he had had so many quarrels
with Ulrika after she had run off with the child—out! The typewriter that linked him to the literary stewpot—out! He meant to purify his life. Anyone who wanted to get in touch with him
had to go through the receptionist at the
. All these circumstances—these predicaments—gave Lars, God knows how, the face of a foetus; it was as if he was waiting
for his dead father to find him, and was determined to remain recognizable.

Yet he was already well into graying. The tall pelt of his head was filigreed with strings the color of goat-milk cheese, and between his entirely beautiful eyes there were two well-established
vertical trenches. He was probably on the brink of needing glasses; it was his habit to pull on the cords of his eyebrow muscles, which in turn shot folds across the lids, and these, squeezing
down, sharpened his view and deepened the trenches. In spite of such gnarling and graying, he could still be taken, by a stranger on the elevator, for a messenger boy.

On the
he was one of three reviewers. The others were Gunnar Hemlig, the Wednesday reviewer, and Anders Fiskyngel, who had Friday. Lars was stuck with Monday: it was
settled long ago that no one paid any attention to the culture page on Monday mornings. On buses you could see people yawning their way straight past the headlines to the letters columns, where the
anti-alcohol grouches held forth. As the week wore on, the somnolence that characterized the
’s early edition constituency began to lift. By Wednesday it was ready for
Gunnar, an authority on the contemporary American novel; he taught a course on the side, which he called, in the undulations of his recognizable snicker, “The Marriage of Mailer and
Jong.” By Friday, Anders—who had the favored spot—found the
’s readers alert to any outbreak of temperament. Spy thrillers, royalty, sports, the
culinary arts—Anders was insolent in all these categories, and his range of negative specialties was always being augmented. Friday’s customers were wide-awake. Nearly a quarter of all
the letters the
received were addressed to Anders Fiskyngel; he was a kind of provocateur, particularly on the subject of flatbread. He was nasty to any cookbook that praised
it. It was an instance, he said, of Swedish provincialism.

Few letters came for Lars Andemening. Mondays were worthless. Lars was unread, unmolested, unharassed; he was free. This freedom sent him to bed before evening—not out of indolence. On the
wall over his bed he had taped two mottoes:





These were not jokes. Lars, unlike Gunnar, was untouched by the comic muse. He had the chasteness of a consummate gravity. He had long ago thrown himself on the altar of
literature. If he slept—secretly—in the afternoon, it was to wring two days out of one.

In the morning he read. This meant that he started on the first page and finished on the last. He was not a skimmer or a sniffer; he read meticulously, as if, swimming, he were being filmed in
slow motion. The text swept him away and consumed him—he was like a man (the man in the bed-clothes in his father’s tale) drawn down by an undertow. Slowly, slowly, the imaginary cinema
recorded his heavy resisting gulps. Reading was as exhausting to him as the long, weighted strokes of a drowning man. He gave it all his power. Then he cooked himself a bowl of farina and fell into
the wilderness of his quilt.

When he woke at seven into full blackness of night, he felt oddly fat—he was sated with his idea, he understood what he thought. He sat down immediately to his review. He wrote it straight
off, a furnace burning fat. It was as if his pen, sputtering along the line of rapid letters it ignited, flung out haloes of hot grease. The air brightened, then charred. He was very quick now, he
was encyclopedic, he was in a crisis of inundation. He drove through all the caged hypotheses of his author—some were overt and paced behind bars, others were camouflaged, dappled; he was a
dervish, he penetrated everything. When he was within sight of conquest he began to fuzz over with vertigo; he was a little frightened of all he knew. A greased beak tore him off his accustomed
ledge and brought him to a high place beyond his control. Something happened in him while he slept. It was not the sleep of refreshment or restoration. He had no dreams. Afterward his lids clicked
open like a marionette’s and he
: what he saw, before he had formulated even a word of it, was his finished work. He saw it as a kind of vessel, curved, polished, hollowed out. In
its cup lay an alabaster egg with a single glittering spot; no, not an egg; a globe, marvelously round. An eye. A human eye: his own; and then not his own. His father’s murdered eye.

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