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The World to Come - Book of the Month

by Dara Horn

There are books that you know will continue to hover in the recesses of your mind and Dara Horn’s brilliant THE WORLD TO COME is one of those.

The story begins at a singles night in a New York museum. Recently divorced Benjamin Ziskind has been sent there by his twin sister Sara to “at least make some vague effort toward being happy”. Ben can’t believe his eyes when he realises that one of the exhibits is a painting by Marc Chagall that once belonged to his family. Incensed at what he feels should be rightfully theirs; he steals the painting back.

The narrative now explodes into a kaleidoscopic set of stories around Ben’s family history that covers a hugely ambitious range of topics including the Russian pogroms of the early 20th century; Vietnam; Yiddish folklore; Stalin’s “disappeared” and the work and life of Marc Chagall, particularly his artistic relationship with the tragic Russian-Jewish writer “Der Nister”. You may think that this may seem like too much going on but the individuals’ stories are so cleverly interwoven and absorbing that the reader never loses track.

Central to the story is the image of the painting:
“It was a painting of a street. The street was covered with snow and lined by a short iron fence and little crooked buildings whose rooftops bent and reflected in all directions. Above the street, a man with a beard, pack, hat and cane hovered in the sky, moving over the houses as if walking – unaware, in murky horizontal profile, that he was actually in flight.”

This dream-like quality pervades the book, culminating in a surprising, but satisfying, final chapter at the “celestial” school. This is not so ethereal as it sounds – there’s a lot of common sense talked here, loose ends are tied up and, in the end, we understand how a family is created.

Read our interview with Dara Horn.


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