‘The Shawl’ by Cynthia Ozick

When I began writing, I looked to other texts for guidance. I wanted, amongst other things, to know how best to write about history in the context of fiction and ‘The Shawl’ became one of my teachers. This harrowing story, told in very few words, is about a mother, her baby, and her niece who live through the horrors of the Holocaust. Rosa, too starved to produce milk, feeds her child on her shawl:Magda took Rosa’s nipple, and Rosa never stopped walking, a walking cradle. There was not enough milk; sometimes Magda sucked air; then she screamed. Stella was ravenous. Her knees were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones.This is one story that I have never actually heard read aloud yet it feels as though I have, as both silence and sound lie at its heart.

First published in The New Yorker, May 1980, and available to read online here. Collected, together with a companion novella, ‘Rosa’, in The Shawl, Knopf, 1989