A fresh exploration of memory and the future from the award-winning author of A Guide for the Perplexed (2013, etc.).
The idea that life derives its meaning from death is hardly new, but Horn manages to turn this commonplace notion into a powerful—and occasionally playful—exploration of what it is to be mortal. When the story begins, Rachel is living in New York, surrounded by children and grandchildren who remind her of the many, many, many children and grandchildren she has known and lost. Rachel’s memories extend all the way back to first-century Jerusalem, where she sacrificed her own death to save the life of her little son. Her child’s father, Elazar, has done the same. Over the centuries, these two come together and part again and again. They also start new lives and new families and travel to new worlds. The history they experience is, quite particularly, Jewish history. Without the efforts of their son, Judaism might not have survived the destruction of the Second Temple. They lose children and partners to the Romans, to the Spanish Inquisition, and to the Holocaust. This novel is more intimate than sweeping, though. Horn takes the reader into the past when Rachel is lost in memory like anyone might be lost in memory; it just happens that Rachel’s memory goes back rather far. And all these temporal excursions resonate with Rachel’s present—which is also the reader’s present. As for the actual mechanics of how Rachel and Elazar become immortal….Some readers are likely to feel there’s not enough explanation, while others might feel that there’s not enough mystery. And there are moments when dialogue, character development, and storytelling are subordinate to the novel's conceit. These are difficulties any writer of speculative fiction will understand, of course, and this novel succeeds on so many levels that these are minor complaints.
Poignant and thoughtful.