four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
Dara Horn
user_rating: 
0

A-TheWorldToComeWhen former child prodigy Ben Ziskind, 30, attends a singles party at a museum and comes across a Marc Chagall sketch, he recognizes it as one that hung in his childhood home. He steals it and convinces his twin sister, Sara, to replace the heisted art with a forgery. With this premise, Horn (In the Image) traverses the history of the valuable sketch Over Vitebsk; the life of its creator, Chagall; his Yiddish novelist friend; and their lasting cultural legacy. The painting represents not only the spiritual, theological, and religious terrain of the twentieth century (from a Soviet orphanage to Vietnam and the New Jersey suburbs); it also captures the Ziskinds’ losses, dreams, and hopes for worlds to come.
Norton. 314 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393051072

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Isn’t there a Willy Wonka gum that tastes like all good foods at once? If so, Dara Horn’s The World to Come is the literary equivalent of that confection, equal parts mystery, sprawling novel, folktale, philosophical treatise, history, biography, love story and fabulist adventure. … As for Horn’s use of language, each page of her novel is a marvel." Debra Spark

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"By the novel’s end we are unsure of art itself. … Almost romantic, almost tragic, almost comic, almost mystical—the novel suspends us between emotions, never allowing any to become predominant, and we hang there in that indeterminate space, perfectly happy, hoping that the book will never end." Bethany Schneider

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel may sound over-ambitious—pogrom and privation, familial and romantic love, life after death (and before), not to mention high art and quiz shows. And yet it all seems to work—beautifully." Merle Rubin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Horn writes about theology and moral imperatives and the afterlife—as though she didn’t realize that such things just aren’t done in sophisticated literary prose. But that daring is endearing, especially when it flows from deeply sympathetic characters, an encyclopedic grasp of 20th-century history and a spiritual sense that sees through the conventional barriers between this life and the one to come—or the one before." Ron Charles

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Horn’s prose is lovely, her premise original, her fictional worlds real and compelling. What a disappointment, then, to come to the end looking for some resolution and be left to a dream world, a beautiful vision full of unanswered questions." Robin Vidimos

Detroit Free Press 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s disappointing overall when the novel returns to Ben. He’s so numb … that it’s hard to feel anything for him—really, he’s no more than a device to get the story going. But, oh, what a story, or collection of stories." Susan Hall-Balduf

Critical Summary

Inspired by a true story of a Chagall painting that was stolen from the Jewish Museum in New York in 2001 (which later turned up), The World to Come is at once a mystery, Jewish history and folklore, biography, philosophical treatise, love story, and fantastical adventure. Horn, a scholar of Hebrew and Jewish literature, has produced a surfeit of riches. With elegance and sympathy, she interweaves multiple stories about Yiddish literature, Stalinist Russia, Ben’s father’s Vietnam service, and the Ziskind family, while raising questions about art, identity, cultural inheritance, and the human soul. Though some critics felt jilted by the sudden ending, most felt that what could have been a hodge-podge narrative coalesced into a beautiful, complex, and haunting novel.