Knopf. Apr. 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780593318829. $21. F
This charming, poignant novel is presented as the memoir in progress of one Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, an elderly trustee and former student at Temple House, a boys’ boarding school in Westchester County, NY, later converted into an old-age residence for its surviving trustees. Petrie is writing his memoir in 1949, but its entries dwell on his student days, when he befriended a Jewish boy named Ben-Zion Elefantin. Before Petrie’s birth, his father temporarily fled to Egypt, abandoning his wife and law practice to assist a famed cousin on an archaeological dig. Some artifacts from the trip ended up in young Petrie’s possession; one artifact, an unusual beaker shaped like a stork, may have come from the same island as Elefantin’s mysterious family. Petrie imagines the beaker representing a connection between the two boys.
VERDICT Ozick’s 30th published work (she is in her 90s) gently evokes the loneliness, helplessness, and regrets of old age. The novel initially seems a wisp of a story, but scattered within are clues that add layers of meaning to Petrie’s faded memories, as well as the impact of his own barely acknowledged anti-Semitism on his life’s trajectory.
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