Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Do some people grow young before they are born, the way some people grow old before they die?"

With The World to Come Dara Horn has created a novel with the lyrical heart of a poem. Her words flow through the mind, through the soul, like a song, with repeated choruses and melodies that both soothe and haunt. Horn also uses her way with words to evoke a marvelous kind of synesthesia throughout the book which is extended even beyond my own imagination (and a wonderful paradise where exists, among other things, library/bars where

"librarian-sommeliers bring up the requested bottle carefully. Some are meant to be drunk warm heated with love; others are plunged into icy buckets of hatred or chilled slightly in anger before drinking. Most are served at room temperature, objectively tasted while some are served lust hot. Wary drinkers usually ask to see the label before opening he bottle, inspecting the title and the author's name to make sure it matches what they ordered.
Most of the visitors to the paradise bar drink cheap pints of newspapers and magazines, microbrewed advertising copy, and, lately, Internet screeds on tap. Some like fancy anthology cocktails, readers' digests of different works that make them seem more sophisticated than they are. Others prefer the hard stuff that needs no particular vintage, tossing back murder mystery shots and swilling down romances and thrillers that leave them plastered on the floor for days. . . .But others--are drawn to the bar, believing that behind the crowd swallowing cheap words, there might be something worthy of their not-yet lips. And those are the ones who meet the librarian-sommeliers."

(I so want to be a librarian-sommelier after i die!!!~sounds like heaven to me~and i know this quote and the one following makes this book sound not very fictioniony/novelly, but i assure you it is and these quotes fit in very well i just provide them because i love them so...) The main plot line was inspired by a real life event when a million-dollar Chagall painting was stolen from a museum during a singles cocktail hour. What follows is a beautiful meditation on the meaning of life, death, birth and the afterlife. The "World to Come" of the title refers mainly to the afterlife but also takes on many more meanings as the story weaves it spell. Horn invents the thief in one Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy (a title he takes great comfort in until he realizes he has never heard of an adult prodigy) who believes it once hung in his living room. Benjamin provides the tapestry with which to weave in the threads of his family's history, going back to his grandparents on both sides, and his twin sister and her husband as well as his own somewhat unhappy life. The narrative travels back and forth between and among an orphanage in Soviet Russia where Chagall taught to suburban New Jersey and the jungles of New Jersey. In this novel history does indeed repeat but tragedies do not always have to be tragic. Biblical tales, Yiddish folktales, and family histories are constantly being rewritten and retold. Although this is a realistic novel there are many magnificent allegories to be found within its pages (and a touch of history to be learned as well~always a nice little addition in my ever so humble opinion)

"It is a great injustice that those who die are often people we know, while those who are born are people we don't know at all. We name children after the dead in the dim hope that they will resemble them, pretending to blunt the loss of the person we knew while struggling to make the person we don't know into less of a stranger. It's compelling, this idea that the new person is so tightly bound to the old, but most of us are afraid to believe it. But what if we are right? Not that the new person is a reincarnation of the old, but rather, more subtly, that they know each other, that the already-weres and the not-yets of our world, the mortals and the natals, are bound together somewhere just past where we can see, in a knot of eternal life?"

Though both themes and words may repeat themselves in The World to Come they never feel repetitive, just comforting. All the tales feel familiar, even the ones not heard before~though the telling is always fresh and beautiful. I noticed many reviewers were left feeling unsatisfied with the ending and the last chapter of the book, but i thought the last chapter was beautiful and that if you took the time to read it carefully (come on~just suck up that beautiful metaphysical poetry~you'll be better off for it) the answers you were seeking about the characters you had come to love could be found there, but maybe that was just my own wishful, wistful thinking~anyway i found it in no way detracting. If you happen to be looking for a book group read this one offers many, many topics for discussion. This is one of the best books i have read this year and i have added it to my list of all-time favorites (believe me, that's something)~i already can't wait to read it again! A very rewarding read.

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