It's not everyday you have the pleasure of listening to a talk by someone with the intellect of author Dara Horn. Ms. Horn, author of several novels, was on hand to address the Sisterhood of Westchester Reform Temple about her third and latest novel, All Other Nights. Her second book, The World to Come is a favorite of book clubs, and extra seats had to be added for the presentation.
Calling Dara Horn an author is a misnomer. From the rabbi's introduction and her opening remarks it was clear that Horn could be called a theologian, a scholar, a professor and a mom. Though she looks no older than my children, she claims to be the mother of three of her own, ages 4, 2 and 9 months and she somehow finds a few hours each day to write. Horn grew up in New Jersey, one of four children, who were sometimes called "The Bronte's of Short Hills" as three have emerged as writers.
Horn attended Harvard University and received her PhD in comparative literature, studying both Yiddish and Hebrew. She brings her knowledge of the Torah, Judaism and ancient Jewish language to her novels which all have Jewish themes. As she writes for American Jews whose first language is English, she writes in English and draws from Jewish texts included stories from the Torah that she reconstructs to fit her plotline.
What does the American culture have in common with the Jewish culture? Horn asserts that they both have tremendous respect for the rule of law. However, in other aspects the two groups diverge. America is all about the future, and the possibility of making yourself anew tomorrow. In contrast, Jews are defined by their past and their heritage. The torah was handed down to Moses and all his descendants at Mt Sinai, binding the Jews together in a shared history. In this way, Horn contends that the myth of Jewish identity is at odds with the American dream.
In her book, All Other Nights, she addresses both myths, examining the story of the Jewish community in America at the time of the Civil War. Apparently there were 130,000 Jews living in the U.S. at that time, and the largest American Jewish community was in New Orleans. Horn grew curious about the Jews of the South, when she went to Louisiana to speak at a temple in 2002, and in her free time wandered into a Jewish cemetery. This discovery is the inspiration behind her latest book, which is a Civil War era spy story with Jewish characters.
She ended her talk by explaining that the book is written as a palindrome, beginning and ending with parallel events that conclude differently at the front and at the back of the book. In keep with this theme, I will end this piece by restating it's opening...it's not everyday you have the pleasure of listening to a gifted intellect like Dara Horn!