Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Eternal Life"

Dara Horn received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006, studying Hebrew and Yiddish. In 2007 she was chosen by Granta magazine as one of 20 “Best Young American Novelists.” Her first novel, In the Image, received a 2003 National Jewish Book Award, the 2002 Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and the 2003 Reform Judaism Fiction Prize. Her second novel, The World to Come, received the 2006 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, the 2007 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, was selected as an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times Book Review and as one of the Best Books of 2006 by The San Francisco Chronicle, and has been translated into eleven languages. Her third novel, All Other Nights, was selected as an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times Book Review and was one of Booklist’s 25 Best Books of the Decade. In 2012, her nonfiction e-book The Rescuer was published by Tablet magazine and became a Kindle bestseller. Her fourth novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, was selected as one of Booklist’s Best Books of 2013 and was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Horn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Eternal Life, and reported the following:
I was dreading answering this question, knowing how totally arbitrary page 69 is—or frankly any page other than Page 1. So I grudgingly opened my new novel to page 69, already preparing my thoughts on how meaningless this was.

To my astonishment, page 69 of Eternal Life happens to be the page on which the entire key to the novel’s plot is revealed.

Eternal Life is a book about a woman who can’t die. This is not a particularly original premise, of course. Stories about immortality or the quest for it are as old as literature. But in thinking through these stories, I noticed the strange fact that none of them are about fertile women. My main character has been married dozens of times, has had hundreds of children—and has outlived them all. How did she get into this situation? Well, it’s on page 69.

While most of the book is set in contemporary America, page 69 comes at the heart of the book, when Rachel is a young and still-mortal woman in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. She’s in love with the son of the High Priest in the ancient Jewish temple, despite being married to someone else. When her child with her lover falls ill, she makes a divine vow before the High Priest to save her child’s life. The price of this vow, as the High Priest explains to her, is her death: “You must sacrifice your own death for him to live. It means that your child will live, but you will never die.”

Mothers will do anything for their children, right? Rachel doesn’t hesitate. She won’t appreciate just what this means until much later, when her city is on fire… and also much, much, much, much later, in 2018, when most of the book takes place. But that’s the part that takes place before page 69, and after, and throughout her eternal life.
Learn more about the author and her work at Dara Horn's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue