Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn

A Guide for the PerplexedDara Horn’s latest novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, intertwines the stories of several different characters, spanning multiple countries and timelines.  While some characters’ lives take on a more suspenseful tension, others highlight the daily and often rocky evolution of family relationships, philosophy, and the importance of memories, both real and altered.

As the title suggests, A Guide for the Perplexed, delves significantly into Jewish history and philosophy.  Dara Horn not only writes about topics in which she is well versed, but she further researches each topic to authenticate her subject, even in a fictional interpretation.  This is both a pro and a con to her story-telling style.  At times, it allows for important light to be shed on the multiple layers of the story and ties everything back to a central theme.  At other times, however, it feels a bit like an academic lecture.

I most enjoyed the story-line of sisters Josie and Judith, namely because of the action, mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and danger involved.  Some other characters were a bit dry, but Josie and Judith were anything but ordinary.  As their lives take an extraordinary turn for the worse, their relationship as sisters is tested to the ultimate limit.

For a long moment, oxygen fled her brain, returning in a dizzying rush that flung her to the ground.  She lay on her back looking up at the sky, feeling the frantic rise and fall of her chest as breath returned, but unable to fight the sudden fatigue that made the sky fade above her.  As she drifted into dream, she saw something extraordinary: instead of dirt, there appeared, on the tall round walls of the pit, hundreds and hundreds of little doors.

I enjoyed the concept and description of the Genizah technology invented by Josie, a method which records every detail about a person’s life.  With our constantly evolving world of technology, the implications of this type of tool is very relevant today.  Horn did a fantastic job unveiling the constraints of memory, regardless of how realistic they may seem.  The concept of purposefully altering memory to create an improved history was intriguing and Horn wrote about it in a fashion that was both realistic and artistic.

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