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The World to Come (2006)

by Dara Horn

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1,0364316,417 (3.81)52
An intoxicating combination of mystery, spirituality, redemption, piety, and passion, The World To Come is Dara Horn's follow-up to her breakout, critically acclaimed debut novel In the Image. Using a real-life art heist as her starting point, Horn traces the life and times of several characters, including Russian-born artist Marc Chagall and the New Jersey-based Ziskind family. Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy, now spends his days writing questions for a television trivia show. After Ben's twin sister, Sara, forces him to attend a singles cocktail party at a Jewish museum, Ben spots Over Vitebsk, a Chagall sketch that once hung in the twins' childhood home. Convinced the painting was stolen from his family, Ben steals the work of art and enlists Sara to create a forgery to replace it. While trying to evade the police, Ben attempts to find the truth of how the painting got to the museum. From a Jewish orphanage in 1920s Soviet Russia where Marc Chagall brought art to orphaned Jewish boys, to a junior high school in Newark, New Jersey, with a stop in the jungles of Da Nang, Vietnam, Horn weaves a story of mystery, romance, folklore, history and theology into a spellbinding modern tale. Richly satisfying and utterly unique, her novel opens the door to "the world to come"--not life after death, but the world we create through our actions right now.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Paintings are at the heart of these hefty novels, both of which combine the antics of a heist novel with ruminations on literature, history, and loss. Memorable characters and rich details add to the enjoyment of both books.
  2. 00
    Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau (the_awesome_opossum)
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English (41)  Dutch (2)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Horn's second novel tells a multi-generational story of a Russian Jewish immigrant family in the US, weaving between various time periods and centering on each of three consecutive generations. It centers on the third generation in the present, Benjamin Ziskind and his twin sister Sara, starting with Benjamin spotting a painting by Chagall that was once owned by his family and promptly stealing it from the museum.

The book ends oddly, as did Horn's first novel, with a dreamy description of Sara's son in his pre-birth period, following an apparent talmudic or midrashic fable and learning about the world before birth, before he heads to the real world.

Horn is a beautiful writer, and there are paragraphs in here that make the reader cry. I found much of the story depressing- the world to come might be great, but the world of the Ziskinds is no great shakes. And I'm not thrilled with the ending. I've now read four of her novels in quick succession, and I have to say that they get better as she goes- this is worth reading for sure, but later novels are better. ( )
  DanTarlin | Jul 27, 2022 |
DNF

It was completely different than what I expected. In some moments dark and disturbing. Totally not my cup of tea. Plus, I wasn't in a mood for something serious.
  Sarielle | Jan 15, 2020 |
Ben steals a small painting from a museum because it looks like the one his parents had in his childhood home. We follow the story of how the painting came into being and how Ben's mother Rosalie got it and why she sold it. Chagall had a colleague at a boy's orphanage where he was teaching and where Ben's grandfather was after the pogroms who stuffed his Yiddish stories into Chagall's frames. Rosalie found them later as an adult and published them as English children's stories--plagiarism or the survival of cultural heritage. The final chapter covers the pre-birth of Ben's nephew, as a "not-yet" child. Reminiscent of The Goldfinch. A non-linear plot, which makes it hard to follow. ( )
  mojomomma | Nov 14, 2019 |
Another beautiful example of the genre (is there a name for books about early middle twentieth century eastern european jews, magic, and late 20th century american jews? like Foer, or History of Love, etc?). Anyways, great. Joy in hard times, humor in tragedy. ( )
  Eoin | Jun 3, 2019 |
Manufactured misery. This effort reeks of the university workshop. Assembly was required. Ms. Horn appears to have taken the template of Nicole Krauss and where the latter has a character confront or be molded by The Shoah/Stalin/La Junta; Horn eschews the pivotal "Or" and asks why not cobble on a Chernobyl and Vietnam as well? You may think some characters are mistreated. My constructions really suffer from History (and goyim).

I already hated this novel when the absurdity was suddenly amplified at the end of the novel's second section. I won't discuss that. The final section is a magical realist dimension where Zuzu and Clarence can discuss the implications of bells and wings while sipping literature and ingesting art. That is simply sad.

The Chagall sections were engaging but so brief. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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For my siblings, Jordana, Zachary, and Ariel--my fellow artists and lifelong friends, in this world, in prior worlds, and in every world to come.
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There used to be many families like the Ziskinds, families where each person always knew that his life was more than his alone.
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An intoxicating combination of mystery, spirituality, redemption, piety, and passion, The World To Come is Dara Horn's follow-up to her breakout, critically acclaimed debut novel In the Image. Using a real-life art heist as her starting point, Horn traces the life and times of several characters, including Russian-born artist Marc Chagall and the New Jersey-based Ziskind family. Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy, now spends his days writing questions for a television trivia show. After Ben's twin sister, Sara, forces him to attend a singles cocktail party at a Jewish museum, Ben spots Over Vitebsk, a Chagall sketch that once hung in the twins' childhood home. Convinced the painting was stolen from his family, Ben steals the work of art and enlists Sara to create a forgery to replace it. While trying to evade the police, Ben attempts to find the truth of how the painting got to the museum. From a Jewish orphanage in 1920s Soviet Russia where Marc Chagall brought art to orphaned Jewish boys, to a junior high school in Newark, New Jersey, with a stop in the jungles of Da Nang, Vietnam, Horn weaves a story of mystery, romance, folklore, history and theology into a spellbinding modern tale. Richly satisfying and utterly unique, her novel opens the door to "the world to come"--not life after death, but the world we create through our actions right now.

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W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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