cover image A Guide for the Perplexed

A Guide for the Perplexed

Dara Horn. Norton, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-06489-6

The latest novel from Horn (All Other Nights) is actually several books in one. One strand, a historical narrative set in 1896, depicts Cambridge professor Solomon Schechter’s discovery of the Cairo Genizah, a repository of thousands of documents in an old Egyptian synagogue; while another, set in 1171, recounts how the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed, a book attempting to reconcile divine providence and free will, after the drowning death of his brother David. Lastly, the novel explores sibling rivalry, taking the biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers as a foundational case study. Josephine “Josie” Ashkenazi—the inventor of Genizah, a software program that comprehensively archives moments from its users’ lives—is encouraged by her envious sister Judith to accept a consultant position at the Library of Alexandria. Soon after Josie arrives in post–Arab Spring Egypt, however, she is kidnapped. When a video appears online of Josie being hanged, Judith moves in with her sister’s family, sleeping with her brother-in-law and caring for her six-year-old niece. If this sounds melodramatic, that’s because it is. Worse yet, there is something profoundly unlikable about all the characters involved. Still, Horn raises intriguing questions—including some of the eternal variety and others very much of this moment. Agent: Gary Morris, David Black Agency. (Sept.)