Novelist Dara Horn Continues Getting the ‘Job’ Done in Raising Philosophical Issues

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Some people might be impressed to know that Dara Horn graduated from Harvard University with a degree in comparative literature, having studied both Hebrew literature and Yiddish, then went on to receive her Ph.D. there, too.

She’s since published four books, winning the 2003 Jewish Book Award for her first novel, In the Image, a contemporary retelling of the Book of Job. Several subsequent awards have followed, with her third book, All Other Nights, selected as the One Book, One Jewish Community winner in Philadelphia.
The latest, A Guide for the Perplexed, raises philosophical questions and other issues that she discussed during her Oct. 20 lecture at Ursinus College entitled “Shut Up: I Made Giraffes: Justice and Creativity in the Book of Job.”
She’s in the process of completing her fifth book, as yet unnamed, which will, in effect, give her the Five Books of Dara.
“I like that,” she smiled. “I’ve never heard that one before.”
Ursinus is one of more than 200 universities, synagogues, churches and other cultural institutions where she’s delivered lectures throughout North America, Israel and Australia. And she’s done it all before the age of 40, while raising four children in her North Jersey home.
“If only my children were this impressed with me,” laughed Horn, after her Ursinus lecture in front of a few hundred freshman, who’d already read the Book of Job as a course requirement, plus faculty and some alumni. “They’re totally not interested in listening to anything I have to say.
“My oldest son Ari [now 9] once asked me, ‘How many books have you written, Mommy? You’re so much older than me, and I’ve written more than you.’
“At that time, he was writing four-page comic books. Mine were 300 pages. It takes a lot to impress them.”
They’re about the only ones unimpressed by the woman who’s made several stops in the Philadelphia area over the years. That’s partly because she knows she wouldn’t be here if not for this city.
“My dad went to Temple, and my mom went to Penn,” she explained. “Both my sisters went to Penn, as did my grandfather.
“My parents met in Philadelphia through Destiny, the world’s first computer dating service. I’m a product of modern technology.”
Her appearance was in conjunction with Ursinus’ Arts and Lectures Series, sponsored in part by the school’s Jewish Studies Department and Hillel. She spoke about how the Book of Job poses a series of unanswerable questions, which, in many ways, leave the reader unsatisfied.
“Job begins as a fable about justice,” she said, “but 3,000 years later, Job’s questions are still alive to us. If you think you’re going to get answers about evil, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Later, she elaborated on the message she was trying to get across, tying it in with her Jewish background.
“A lot of times people read the Book of Job as a work of philosophy,” said Horn, who’s taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Sarah Lawrence College and City University of New York and holds the Gerald Weinstock Visiting Professorship in Jewish Studies at Harvard. “When I read the Book of Job, there’s so much that doesn’t make any sense from a philosophical point that it’s really beautiful.
“It’s deeply obvious you cannot tell a story without a moral in the story. From a Jewish point of view, you have the underlying story about this contract between humans and God.
“The whole Jewish concept of the relationship with God is [that] it’s not a subservient relationship. It’s contractual. The Torah is the contract between the people and God, and the contract has two parties.
“As a writer, I wanted to explore them.”
The result has been four books and a glowing resume for Horn, who in recent years has spoken at Eastern University, Tifereth Beth Israel in Blue Bell, at the National Museum of American Jewish History, at the Free Library of Philadelphia and yes, even at Penn.

That kind of resume should impress anyone.   Well, almost anyone.

Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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