The World to Come by Dara Horn
One might not expect a first novel by a twenty-five-year-old graduate student at Harvard to come out in paperback a year after publication, as Dara Horn’s In the Image did in 2003, complete with a “Reading Group Guide” that featured an interview with the author and a series of “Discussion Questions.” Nor might one expect the author to say of her novel in that interview, “I wanted to create a different style for American Jewish literature.” Such a level of ambition, and of having one’s ambitions taken so seriously, is rare for someone so young, even in an American literary culture in which youth opens many doors.
The “different style” that Dara Horn wished to create in In the Image was defined in the interview as “connected to the Jewish literary tradition of constant reference to an ancient text,” and a list under “Suggested Further Reading” named some of the texts the novel draws on. These included the book of Job; Yiddish and Hebrew stories by I.L. Peretz, Nahman of Bratslav, S.Y. Abramovitch, Sholem Aleichem, and Hayyim Nahman Bialik; S.Y. Agnon’s Hebrew novel A Guest For the Night; the daily Yiddish Forward’s Bintel Brief; and Yiddish poems by H. Leivick and Jacob Glatstein. If this suggested a highly intricate work of fiction whose readers had to exert themselves to keep in mind its different stories, characters, images, motifs, and the connections among them, it suggested correctly.
About the Author
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.