Dara Horn writes exuberant, brainy novels about slices of Jewish life that might surprise you. For example, her 2009 novel All Other Nights is about a Jewish woman who served as a spy during the Civil War – for the Confederacy.
Race, class and the pull of conflicting loyalties
On one level of this multi-layered novel, the book is a thriller, with a driving plot about spies conducting their high-stakes activities on opposite sides of a war that split families as well as the nation. At another level, the novel is an exploration of race, class and the pull of conflicting loyalties, and a brilliant depiction of a society poised for extinction. Yet another layer examines a marriage that starts out as an act of espionage and evolves into something else.
Horn’s descriptions of the daily challenges and compromises that faced Jewish families in the South during the 19th century were eye-opening. I was particularly struck by a detail that has stayed with me in the years since I read the book: On Sunday mornings, all the Jewish families in Richmond, Virginia strolled the streets, finally able to breathe freely and relax because for a few hours all the Christian families – who normally judged them and worse – were in church.
A thriller stuffed with ideas
Her latest novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, is a roller-coaster ride that hurtles you from the present day to the 19th century to the 12th century, all in search of answers to compelling questions about memory, history, identity and loyalty.
It sounds heady, but there is a gripping plot to propel you through the story. An American software genius has created an app that records every moment of users’ lives. She is abducted in Egypt, and her sister, always jealous of her success, must decide if and how to save her. And why did the Egyptians kidnap the genius? Not for the reasons you might expect.
All of this is tied up, in ways both wildly imaginative and practical, with the discovery of a rare manuscript more than 100 years ago, and a book written by the 12th century rabbi and philosopher Maimonides. The novel is stuffed with ideas and incidents, and you can feel the author’s glee as she knits together strands of history and philosophy.
Giddy with intellectual delight
Dara Horn’s four novels aren’t beach reads. But if you enjoy fiction that’s packed with historical detail and giddy with intellectual delight, Horn is a writer for you.