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People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present Paperback – September 13, 2022
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Winner of the 2021 National Jewish Book Award for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice
Finalist for the 2021 Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year A Wall Street Journal, Chicago Public Library, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A startling and profound exploration of how Jewish history is exploited to comfort the living.
Renowned and beloved as a prizewinning novelist, Dara Horn has also been publishing penetrating essays since she was a teenager. Often asked by major publications to write on subjects related to Jewish culture―and increasingly in response to a recent wave of deadly antisemitic attacks―Horn was troubled to realize what all of these assignments had in common: she was being asked to write about dead Jews, never about living ones. In these essays, Horn reflects on subjects as far-flung as the international veneration of Anne Frank, the mythology that Jewish family names were changed at Ellis Island, the blockbuster traveling exhibition Auschwitz, the marketing of the Jewish history of Harbin, China, and the little-known life of the "righteous Gentile" Varian Fry. Throughout, she challenges us to confront the reasons why there might be so much fascination with Jewish deaths, and so little respect for Jewish lives unfolding in the present.
Horn draws upon her travels, her research, and also her own family life―trying to explain Shakespeare’s Shylock to a curious ten-year-old, her anger when swastikas are drawn on desks in her children’s school, the profound perspective offered by traditional religious practice and study―to assert the vitality, complexity, and depth of Jewish life against an antisemitism that, far from being disarmed by the mantra of "Never forget," is on the rise. As Horn explores the (not so) shocking attacks on the American Jewish community in recent years, she reveals the subtler dehumanization built into the public piety that surrounds the Jewish past―making the radical argument that the benign reverence we give to past horrors is itself a profound affront to human dignity.
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― Martin Peretz, Wall Street Journal
"This is one of the best books of essays about Jewish history and culture that I have read in years."
― David Herman, The Jewish Chronicle
"“So necessary and so disquieting…People Love Dead Jews is an outstanding book with a bold mission. It criticizes people, artworks, and public institutions that few others dare to challenge.”"
― Yaniv Iczkovits, New York Times Book Review
"Extremely engaging... Horn will make you think."
― Jeffrey Salkin, Washington Post
"Horn is clearly exhausted about thinking about dead Jews, and about antisemitism, and you can feel her emotion through the page. But she channels the emotion to weave together a large amount of stories ― from Russian Jews living in China to Daf Yomi ― and what results is a compelling series of essays."
― Emily Burack, Alma
"People Love Dead Jews is, of all things, a deeply entertaining book, from its whopper of a title on. Horn’s sarcasm is bracing, reminding us that the politics of Jewish memory often becomes an outrageous marketing of half-truths and outright lies... People Love Dead Jews reminds us that Jewishness is not a museum, a graveyard, or a heritage site but a lively ongoing conversation at a long table that stretches before and behind us. Come out of hiding, Horn urges us, it’s time to take part in Jewish life."
― David Mikics, Tablet
"Weaving together history, social science, and personal story, she asks readers to think critically about why we venerate stories and spaces that make the destruction of world Jewry a compelling narrative while also minimizing the current crisis of antisemitism... People Love Dead Jews offers no definitive solution to the paradox it unfolds. Horn leaves the reader with several interwoven explanations, each of which lead us to confront the dark reality that Jewish deaths make for a compelling educational narrative, while facing the antisemitism of the present demands a commitment to equality that the world remains unable to embrace."
― Jonathan Fass, Jewish Book Council
"How can a book filled with anger, a book about anti-Semitism and entitled People Love Dead Jews, be delectable at the same time? The novelist Dara Horn has done it, combining previously published pieces in a work that is far greater than the sum of its parts."
― Elliot Abrams, Commentary
"The questions and ideas raised by Horn in People Love Dead Jews are ― like the Yiddish stories she writes about ― endless and defiant of neat solutions. But there is comfort to be found, in the most Jewish ways, in her humour and clear-eyed critical thinking."
― Keren David, The Jewish Chronicle
"Barely concealed behind the breezy-sounding words ‘People Love,’ cannily reminiscent of a soap ad, is the implicit understanding that ‘people don’t love live Jews’ and even its complement, ‘people love Jews dead.’ In her latest masterpiece, Horn means them all, and more. The best-selling novelist, professor of Jewish literature, and devoted mother of four does not hesitate to confront this hypocrisy head-on... Horn diagnoses with astonishing accuracy the origins, symptoms, and intransigence of the spiritual cancer at the heart of modern culture."
― Juliana Geran Pilon, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
"Horn herself [is] sometimes a witness, at others providing insightful commentary full of anguish and rage. This is not an easy book to read. But wrestling with Horn’s ideas makes for a rich experience. In all, a profound lament."
― Ilene Cooper, Booklist
"Dara Horn proposes a disturbingly fresh reckoning with an ancient hatred, refusing all categories of victimhood and sentimentality. She offers a passionate display of the self-renewing vitality of Jewish belief and practice. Because antisemitism is a Christian problem more than a Jewish one, Christian readers need this book. It is urgently important."
― James Carroll, author of The Truth at the Heart of the Lie
"Dara Horn’s thoughtful, incisive essays constitute a searing investigation of modern-day antisemitism, in all its disguises and complications. No matter where Horn casts her acute critical eye―from the ruins of the Jewish community in Harbin, China, to the tragedy at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue―the reports she brings back are at once surprising and enlightening and necessary."
― Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson and A Thousand Darknesses
"Dara Horn has an uncommon mastery of the literary essay, and she applies it here with a relentless, even furious purpose. Horn makes well-worn debates―on Anne Frank and Hannah Arendt, for instance―newly provocative and urgent. Her best essays are by turns tragic and comic, and her magnificent mini biography of Varian Fry alone justifies paying the full hardcover price."
― Tom Reiss, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
"To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle, George Orwell told us. Dara Horn has engaged that struggle, and in People Love Dead Jews she explains why so many prefer the mythologized, dead Jewish victim to the living Jew next door. It’s gripping, and stimulating, and it’s the best collection of essays I have read in a long, long time."
― Mark Oppenheimer, author of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company (September 13, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1324035943
- ISBN-13 : 978-1324035947
- Item Weight : 8.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #18,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #2 in History of Judaism
- #3 in Jewish Social Studies
- #66 in Discrimination & Racism
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2021
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Top reviews from the United States
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Referencing incidents from Simon of Trent in Italy, 1475, to the 1581 vicious murder of Roderigo Lopez under Elizabeth I, (whose predecessors conjured the Blood Libel upon the death of William of Norwich 1144, and in the next century, Edward I would participate in one of the first expulsions of Jews in Europe. Jews would not return to England until 1650 under Cromwell). From Shakespearean plays to Anne Frank’s book, to the burnings of Jewish Sacred Books, Horn shows a pattern of hatred and perceived wickedness of Jews.
Rendered from age-old tropes propagated by Christian works and beliefs over centuries led to the unmitigated murder of two million Jewish children in last century, and to extend to murders of Jews in the recent years. Further, in mirror image, Dara Horn reveals the absence of genuine respect for Jews while laying claim of adoration, sympathy or ridiculous expectations.
Furthermore, and much appreciated, is the mention of the new genre of Holocaust material produced by non-Jews (or even pretend Jews whose work is patently not Jewish).
In these popular works, non-Jews are often the saviors of the Jews, when in reality, the situation was very rare (though when, recognized and treasured). The Holocaust is not about racism. The Holocaust is not universal.
Through Jewish identity, the author relates differences in varied cultures and morals from behavior towards animals to political/religious oppression.
The author speaks specifically to the uniqueness of Judaism and to the uniqueness of anti-Semitism.
For Some Reviewers: What the book is Not about:
Donald Trump or other contemporary political leaders. The book Is about Obsession and Irrational Hatred. Equally, the book was not about the glory of rebuilding Jewish Heritage Sites to benefit for profit on the backs of Dead Jews but the abject loss of the Jews murdered or discarded.
Whom we must never forget are men like Varian Fry, the Righteous of the World.
Perhaps not much new for Jews in the know, however, the book, so cleverly written makes it so worth reading.
As succinctly stated by the author: Anti Semitism is a conspiracy of hate against Jews/Judaism.
As a Jew, it is nearly impossible to read Horn’s book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, without the baggage we haul along as the topics she explores hit right at an existential Jewish dichotomy: we are not in existential danger, the place we live is safe or we are in existential danger (or soon will be) and the place we live is dangerous (or soon will be).
Shaul Magid has written, as of this moment, one of the few largely negative reviews of this book. He thinks that seeing Jewish history as a series of catastrophes warps our sense of Jewish history. As a Jew influenced by Bratslav, I understand his concerns; the Jewish life we live should be approached b’simcha, with joy. Otherwise, Judaism becomes a nihilistic entity, enshrining victim-hood, and instilling a dangerous sense of entitlement to our own sufferings (after all, many other peoples have suffered catastrophes). Why can't we Jews just deal if it?
I think we fail to because Horn’s sense of Jewish history, across a certain spectrum, is just as correct as Magid’s. It is prudent, even wise, to enjoy our lives as Jews to the hilt, while at the same time realizing that our history has given us ample reason to be afraid of certain trends, and plan to protect ourselves.
There is nothing inherently contradictory in holding these two views at once. This is not an all or nothing proposition. After all, this is how we approach life. Every day we wake up, and we know, at least in the back of our mind, that something terrible might happen today. This may be our last day in a job, a marriage, or as living beings. But we get out of our beds and we move on and live with as much joy as possible. We live the most we can in the face of existential uncertainty; but we also plan for the worst.
Top reviews from other countries
I don't know how good Dara Horn's fiction novels are - the reviews are mixed. But this book is downright brilliant. She doesn't leave a stone unturned, and let me tell you, I had quite a few myths busted. Buy and read it, if you're interested in the subject, or get it at your local library.