"Nothing short of amazing." —Entertainment Weekly
A million-dollar Chagall is stolen from a museum during a singles' cocktail hour. The unlikely thief, former child prodigy Benjamin Ziskind, is convinced that the painting once hung in his parents' living room. This work of art opens a door through which we discover his family's startling history—from an orphanage in Soviet Russia where Chagall taught to suburban New Jersey and the jungles of Vietnam.
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.
An Ode to Books and What is Owed to Books
For many years, artists and authors avoided efforts to depict the Holocaust because it stood apart from other events in magnitude and dreadful horror. Now, it would seem, some can't get enough of creating art and literature that references it. Dara Horn has taken it all a step further by including all of those references to Nazi and Soviet murder, torture, and demonic hatred into the lives of three generations of survivors, not just with her own lyric descriptions, but with the stories of Yiddish writers (some of whom are all but forgotten) and with rich Biblical references. It is through writing that mankind is redeemed.