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The World to Come: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Following in the footsteps of her breakout debut In the Image, Dara Horn's second novel, The World to Come, is an intoxicating combination of mystery, spirituality, redemption, piety, and passion. 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, the New Jersey-based Ziskind family, and the "already-weres" and "not-yets" who roam an eternal world that exists outside the boundaries of life on earth.

At the center of the story is Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy who 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 wrongfully taken from his family, Ben steals the work of art and enlists his twin to create a forgery to replace the stolen Chagall. What follows is a series of interwoven stories that trace the life and times of the famous painting, and the fate of those who come into contact with it.

From a Jewish orphanage in 1920s Soviet Russia to a junior high school in Newark, New Jersey, with a stop in the jungles of Da Nang, Vietnam, Horn takes readers on an amazing journey through the sacred and the profane elements of the human condition. It is this expertly rendered juxtaposition of the spiritual with the secular that makes The World to Come so profound, and so compelling to readers. As we learn near the end of the beautiful tale, "The real world to come is down below--the world, in the future, as you create it." --Gisele Toueg --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Former child prodigy Ben Ziskind—5'6", 123 pounds and legally blind—steals a Marc Chagall painting at the end of an alienating singles cocktail hour at a local museum, determined to prove that its provenance is tainted and that it belongs to his family. With surety and accomplishment, Horn (In the Image) telescopes out into Ziskind's familial history through an exploration of Chagall's life; that of Chagall's friend the Yiddish novelist Der Nister; 1920s Soviet Russia and its horrific toll on Russian Jews; the nullifying brutality of Vietnam (where Ben's father, Daniel, served a short, terrifying stint); and the paradoxes of American suburbia, a place where native Ben feels less at home than the teenage Soviet refugee Leonid Shcharansky. Ben's relationship with his pregnant twin sister, Sara, a painter who eventually tries to render a forgery of the painting to return to the museum, is a damply compelling exposition of what it means to have someone biologically close but emotionally distant. Horn, born in 1977, expertly handles subplots and digressions, neatly bringing in everything from Yiddish lore to Nebuchadnezzar, Da Nang, the Venice Biennale, recent theories of child development, brutal Soviet politics and Daniel's job as a writer for fictional TV show American Genius. Characters like Erica Frank, of the Museum of Hebraic Art, give tart glimpses into still-claustrophobic Goodbye, Columbus territory, which Horn then unites with a much grander place that furnishes the book's title. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393329063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329063
  • ASIN: 0393329062
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dara Horn was born in New Jersey in 1977 and received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006, studying Hebrew and Yiddish. In 2007 she was chosen by Granta magazine as one of America's "Best Young American Novelists." Her first novel, In the Image, published by W.W. Norton when she was 25, received a 2003 National Jewish Book Award, the 2002 Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and the 2003 Reform Judaism Fiction Prize. Her second novel, The World to Come, published by W.W. Norton in 2006, received the 2006 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, the 2007 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, was selected as an Editors' Choice in The New York Times Book Review and as one of the Best Books of 2006 by The San Francisco Chronicle, and has been translated into eleven languages. Her third novel, All Other Nights, published in 2009 by W.W. Norton, was selected as an Editors' Choice in The New York Times Book Review and was one of Booklist's 25 Best Books of the Decade. In 2012, her nonfiction e-book The Rescuer was published by Tablet magazine and became a Kindle bestseller. Her newest novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, is available in September 2013. She has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence College, and City University of New York, and has lectured at over two hundred universities and cultural institutions throughout North America and in Israel. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In the Yiddish folk tales that are woven through this magnificent book, the World to Come is a heaven occupied both by those that have passed on and those that have yet to be born. So Dara Horn writes about families and generations: elders who have passed on (or in some cases been eliminated), adults facing tragedy, finding new love, or conceiving new life, and children trying to figure out what it all means. One folk tale tells of a town where nobody ever dies, because nobody has really truly lived; throughout the book, Horn is concerned with the quality of living, with risk-taking, faith, and trust, and with authenticity in life or in art. This may sound abstract, but Horn's writing is far from it; her greatest gift is to plunge the reader into the souls of her characters, sharing their experience through their eyes, ears, and skin.

In some ways, this novel reminded me of THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss, another recent novel spanning several generations of Jewish families in Europe and America. Just as that was tied together by the fate of a manuscript whose history spans much of the twentieth century, so this also revolves around an artwork, or rather two of them: a small Chagall painting that is stolen from a New York museum at the start of the book, and some stories by the Yiddish writer Der Nister (the Hidden One), who ultimately met the same fate as numerous other Jewish intellectuals in Soviet Russia. Both art forms -- painting and folk tales -- offer ways of looking at the world that are instinctive rather than logical, childlike in their immediacy, and closer to religion than to fact. Both deal with other worlds.
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Format: Hardcover
In the World to Come, Dara Horn manages to weave family history with myths of birth and paradise to create a beautiful tale. She begins with Ben Ziskind, who steals a Chagall painting from a museum when no one is looking. Ben is going through a bit of a personal crisis at the time, so it's unclear whether he is correct that this painting once belonged to his family or he is simply becoming delusional. We soon come to understand Ben, his motives, and his fears.

Horn's real talent is the ability to switch between scenes, timelines and perspectives all while keeping the interest of the reader. In many novels I find myself slogging through certain parts, biding my time to return to the characters I truly care about. All of Horn's characters are interesting, and I relished all of them equally.

Death is a common theme in the World to Come, and it is to Horn's great credit that her novel is nevertheless optimistic. The denouement may leave some readers craving for more details about exactly what happened next. That is Horn's plan, and she executes it with brilliance.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading "In the Image", Dara Horn's impressive debut novel, I could not wait to read her next creation. "The World to Come" exceeded my expectations!

This beautifully written, multidimensional novel will have broad appeal to lovers of historical fiction, symbolic literature, mystery, romance and much, much more. The novel is deep and philosophical, but also is just plain fun to read with colorful characters and a suspenseful plot that smoothly carries the reader between different time periods and places. A lot of research obviously went into this work, and readers learn interesting, little-known facts about Marc Chagall's art, Yiddish literature, and Russian and American history by osmosis.

What makes art famous and what does it mean to own it? How does our family shape our destiny? When do we encounter "the world to come"? The book touches upon these questions and leaves you with even more. I guarantee you will be thinking it over after you have turned the last page. That is the sign of a great novel, and this book definitely deserves your consideration.

The most pressing question for me is ... when does Dara Horn's third novel come out?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The World To Come is a literary gem. It is a wonderful family saga with characters who are so universally human. There are portions of the book which are achingly real that touch the heart so poignantly...the child, Sara, building a tomb for her deceased father,or trying to understand the reality of father's missing limb due to a war injury..........the son Benjamin trapped in a brace to correct his scoliosis........Etc., Etc, Etc. Some passages brought me to tears and wrought such an emotionnal whallop from the humanity they conveyed.But the family story is only part of the wonder of this book. There is a mystery too.Who stole the Chagall painting and why.? The intricacies of this story line follow three generations of the Ziskind family and in a clever way we follow the mystery of the stolen painting to a satisfying conclusion. The most unique aspect of the book is the portrayal of The World To Come ........ .a place where prenatal beings are coached by their deceased mortal ancestors. The final chapter of the book is a creative masterpiece. There are threads of history running throughout that add another wonderful dimension to the story.One of the most interesting parts of the book is the story of Der Nister , a Yiddish storyteller,who because of the Stalin purges was killed and never received the acclaim of his friend Chagall. Dara Horn weaves into her story a number of wonderful stories from other Yiddish writers whose words were also silenced at the hands of the Stalin regime. If you wish to have a truly unique and wonderful reading experience,run .......do not walk to your library or bookstore and take this exceptional book home with you. You will think about this story...... its many lessons and its lovely humanity for many years to come.
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