"Nothing short of amazing."--Entertainment Weekly
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. Reading group guide included.
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.)
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W. W. Norton & Company
October 16, 2006
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