Book Review: Eternal Life by Dara Horn

Eternal Life coverI was delighted when Dara Horn’s publisher reached out to me with an offer of a review copy for her latest novel, Eternal Life.  Having previously reviewed one of Horn’s earlier books, A Guide for the Perplexed, I was already familiar with her work, her artistic yet taut writing style, and her unusual yet intimately human plots and themes.

Eternal Life certainly did not disappoint.  Horn’s beautiful prose, both serious and light-hearted in turn, unveiled the story of Rachel, a woman who made the choice of giving up her own ability to die in order to save her son’s life.  While some people dream of health and an endlessly long life, Rachel is burdened by watching her spouses, children and grandchildren die in a myriad of ways, over countless generations, while she herself rises from her own recurring death at the age of 18, only to start over and grow old with a new family each time.  Throughout her endless journey, the only person in existence with whom she can speak about her experiences is Elazar, the father of her first son, who also took the oath alongside her and sacrificed his own death.  The two come together and are torn apart by Rachel’s tumultuous emotions towards him, over and over again.  While he believes their love is destiny and the reason that gives him hope, she has reached a point where she wishes to be free of both him and their immortality.

“See, there’s no one else left in the world who knew me then,” Rachel said. “Not even a child. Everyone from then is gone except for him. He’s the only thing I have. And he ruined my life,” Rachel heard her own words and felt like she had turned into one of her grandchildren, those insanely selfish creatures who actually believed they had lives independent of anyone else’s.

As with A Guide for the Perplexed, Dara Horn delves into Jewish history with the vigor of an academic historian, interweaving fact with fiction in this historical novel in a way that lets the reader feel as if he or she is walking through both ancient times and the present.  She has a knack for introducing a supernatural concept while emphasizing the joys and flaws of interpersonal relationships and what it means to be human, experience vast memories, and yet still live in today’s changing world.  Though the stories and characters are very different from one book to the next, I felt there were general themes in her novels that had a familiar tone.  Horn’s voice remains consistently unique and strong as she toys with the philosophical questions about what it means to live life.

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