by Julie HaleOctober, 2006
The World to Come
At the center of Horn's impressive second novel is down-on-his-luck, freshly divorced, super-intelligent Benjamin Ziskind, a researcher for TV game shows. Benjamin, who is blind, nevertheless manages to steal a valuable Marc Chagall painting from the Museum of Hebraic Art in New Jersey. The picture is one that he remembers fondly from childhood, because his parents owned a copy of it. After he nabs the painting, the narrative splits into various threads, moving back and forth between the past and the present, and switching locales. The reader gets a glimpse into Benjamin's family history in passages that focus on his father's tour of duty in Vietnam, and the background of the painting itself is recounted. The author brings Chagall to life in scenes that take place at a Jewish boys' school in Russia, where he taught art in the 1920s. Yiddish folk tales are also part of the narrative, as Horn a Hebrew and Yiddish scholar at Harvard University explores myth and religion in the novel. In addition to these richly developed themes, she adds touches of romance and mystery to the storyline. Her plot was inspired by a real-life art theft that occurred in 2001. From that nugget of truth she has produced an engaging and appealing book. A reading group guide is included in the book.