Summary and book reviews of The World To Come by Dara Horn

The World To Come

By Dara Horn

The World To Come
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2006,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2006,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

A million-dollar painting by Marc Chagall is stolen from a museum. The unlikely thief is Benjamin Ziskind, a thirty-year-old quiz-show writer. As Benjamin and his twin sister try to evade the police, they find themselves recalling their dead parents—the father who lost a leg in Vietnam, the mother who created children's books—and their stories about trust, loss, and betrayal.

What is true, what is fake, what does it mean? Eighty years before the theft, these questions haunted Chagall and the enigmatic Yiddish fabulist Der Nister ("The Hidden One"), teachers at a school for Jewish orphans. Both the painting and the questions will travel through time to shape the Ziskinds' futures.

With astonishing grace and simplicity, Dara Horn interweaves a real art heist, history, biography, theology, and Yiddish literature. Richly satisfying, utterly unique, her novel opens the door to "the world to come"—not life after death, but the world we create through our actions right now.

There used to be many families like the Ziskinds, families where each person always knew that his life was more than his alone. Families like that still exist, but because there are so few of them, they have become insular, isolated, their sentiment that the family is the center of the universe broadened to imply that nothing outside the family is worth anything. If you are from one of these families, you believe this, and you always will.

Lately it had begun to seem to Benjamin Ziskind that the entire world was dead, that he was a citizen of a necropolis. While his parents were living, Ben had thought about them only when it made sense to think about them, when he was talking to them, or talking about them, or planning something involving them. But now they were always here, reminding him of their presence at every moment. He saw them in the streets, always from behind, or turning a corner, his father sitting in the bright yellow taxi next to his, shifting in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. This book is about an art heist, or at least it starts out that way. What does Ben's theft suggest about ownership? Does anyone really own a work of art?

  2. The novel incorporates the lives of two real artists, Marc Chagall and Der Nister. Are these portrayals fair? What are the limits of the artistic imagination—that is, what are the limitations of each of these artists as they appear here, and what are the limitations of the book's portrayals of these artists?

  3. Members of the Ziskind family seem to be deeply or even spiritually connected to one another. What kind of potential do families have in this novel, and what is required for them to live up to it?

  4. Throughout the book, there are references to various ways that ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time Magazine

A deeply satisfying literary mystery and a funny - sad meditation on how the past haunts the present - and how we haunt the future.

Kirkus Reviews

An engrossing adventure, in spite of its flaws. Fans of art and Judaic studies will particularly enjoy this well-researched work.

Booklist - Allison Block

Starred Review. A compelling collage of history, mystery, theology, and scripture, The World to Come is a narrative tour de force crackling with conundrums and dark truths.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review: Horn 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.

Library Journal - Misha Stone

Horn deftly weaves an intricate story steeped in folklore and family secrets. Along the way, readers are offered glimpses of the possibilities, allegorical and otherwise, of life's beginning and end. This is intelligent, compelling literary fiction.

Author Blurb Steve Stern, author of The Angel of Forgetfulness
I can't even count the ways I admire The World to Come -- everything about the book intoxicated me. It is quite simply an astonishing achievement, and Dara Horn is the realist of real things. I suspect it'll be a long while before I again read a book as true as The World to Come.

Author Blurb Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of Strange Fire and A Faker's Dozen
Some excellent books are smart and serious; others are sweet and joyous. Amazingly, Dara Horn's The World to Come is all of the above. Ms. Horn hits every note in the literary register from historical tragedy to mystical delirium, and plays them like a master.

Author Blurb Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of An Almost Perfect Moment
Like a spider weaving her web -- miraculously -- Dara Horn weaves the poignant stories of lives past, lives present, and lives to come in this splendid tale of storytelling itself. A terrific yarn peopled with tender and very human characters, a page-turning mystery of the best sort: not who done it, but why.

Reader Reviews
Judith NYC

A Sensitive Tale
This is a wonderful book with just enough sadness and pain to be uplifting. Dara Horn takes us through a childhood of turmoil with sensitivity and grace. The fantasy work is particularly touching and leaves you wishing to believe.

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Beyond the Book

Dara Horn was inspired to write The World To Come following an actual theft of a Marc Chagall painting from a museum in New York that took place during a singles' cocktail hour. More about this.

The painting that Benjamin Ziskind steals from the museum, Study for "Over Vitebsk", is, I assume, fictitious. However Over Vitebsk itself does exist, and can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. Vitebsk was the town in which Chagall was born and ...

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