by Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams 

Speak­ing with Dara Horn on the phone felt like con­vers­ing with one of my bright­est, most enthu­si­as­tic friends. Since I was the first per­son to inter­view her regard­ing her new book, I was her sound­ing board” as she excit­ed­ly dis­cussed A Guide for the Per­plexed. She will trav­el the coun­try dur­ing Jew­ish Book Month for JBC.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams: How did you come up with the idea for your new book?

Dara Horn: I had been asked to write fic­tion inspired by a spe­cif­ic abstract art­work for an exhib­it at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty Muse­um which showed con­tem­po­rary art inspired by the book of Gen­e­sis. I wrote a piece called How Did It Begin” about two sis­ters who destroy each oth­er, tak­ing my ideas about fam­i­ly and per­son­al iden­ti­ty from the sto­ry of Joseph. 

MBA: There are ref­er­ences in the book not only to the sto­ries of Joseph being thrown into the pit by his broth­ers and sold into slav­ery in Egypt, but also to Tamar’s seduc­tion of Judah in order to main­tain the fam­i­ly, and Rachel and Leah’s sib­ling rival­ry. You have also woven episodes from the lives of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures in this con­tem­po­rary fic­tion. The dynam­ics in the rela­tion­ships of the Ram­bam with his broth­er David, Solomon Schechter with his twin broth­er, Sru­lik, the twin Vic­to­ri­an adven­tur­ers Agnes Smith and Mar­garet Lewis, live along­side the invent­ed mod­ern day sis­ters Josie and Judith. Why are there so many sis­ters and broth­ers in the novel?

DH: I have always been inter­est­ed in sib­ling rela­tion­ships, both bib­li­cal and per­son­al. I think sib­lings share a past but not a future. How­ev­er, the past shared is so dif­fer­ent based on indi­vid­ual mem­o­ry. For exam­ple, Schechter and his broth­er make life deci­sions based on their dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of their father’s insight­ful advice. Josie and Judith remem­ber oppos­ing expe­ri­ences grow­ing up with their moth­er. By the way, my own sib­ling rela­tion­ships have been wonderful! 

The nov­el also came out of my inter­est in the Genizah, the repos­i­to­ry of hun­dreds of thou­sands of stored doc­u­ments writ­ten in Hebrew from 8701880. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to view some of them dur­ing the year I stud­ied in Cam­bridge and was espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in doc­u­ments which inad­ver­tent­ly record­ed the dai­ly exis­tence of the peo­ple of Fus­tat. I have kept jour­nals since I was a child and am fas­ci­nat­ed with the idea of record­ing and pre­serv­ing things. 

Con­tin­ue Reading

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.