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Eternal Life
Cover of Eternal Life
Eternal Life
A Novel
by Dara Horn
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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2018, Booklist Editors' Choice Book (January 2019), and Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018

What would it really mean to live forever?

Rachel's current troubles—a middle-aged son mining digital currency in her basement, a scientist granddaughter trying to peek into her genes—are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, hundreds of children, and 2,000 years, going back to Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Only one person shares her immortality: an illicit lover who pursues her through the ages. But when her children develop technologies that could change her fate, Rachel must find a way out. From ancient religion to the scientific frontier, Dara Horn pits our efforts to make life last against the deeper challenge of making life worth living.

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2018, Booklist Editors' Choice Book (January 2019), and Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018

What would it really mean to live forever?

Rachel's current troubles—a middle-aged son mining digital currency in her basement, a scientist granddaughter trying to peek into her genes—are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, hundreds of children, and 2,000 years, going back to Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Only one person shares her immortality: an illicit lover who pursues her through the ages. But when her children develop technologies that could change her fate, Rachel must find a way out. From ancient religion to the scientific frontier, Dara Horn pits our efforts to make life last against the deeper challenge of making life worth living.

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About the Author-
  • Dara Horn is the author of five acclaimed and award-winning novels. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 30, 2017
    At the heart of Horn’s funny and compassionate novel is a 2,000-year-old Jewish mother seeking reasons for living, some way of dying, and help for her 56-year-old son who lives in her basement. Rachel’s story begins in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, where at 16 she marries her father’s apprentice although she loves the high priest’s son, Elazar, and is pregnant with Elazar’s baby. Two years later, when the child falls ill, Rachel makes a bargain with God: she must give up not her life but her death in exchange for the child’s survival. The child survives, and Rachel endures successive lifetimes over the next 20 centuries, each lifetime immediately following the previous. Elazar, having made a similar bargain, pursues Rachel through time, occasionally finding her, though never for long. Now in 21st-century New York, Rachel’s current form (or “version,” as she calls it) is an 84-year-old widow. She thinks she has found a way to finally die, but first she wants to see her current problem child, the one in the basement, get a life. She also wishes to protect her granddaughter, a medical researcher dangerously close to discovering the truth behind Rachel’s unusual DNA. Horn (A Guide for the Perplexed) weaves historical detail and down-to-earth humor into this charming Jewish Groundhog Day spanning two millennia.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from December 15, 2017
    One strand of Horn's wondrously complex A Guide for the Perplexed (2013) concerned the efforts of a brilliant software designer to create a program that would allow its users to record every element of their lives and, thus, to keep the past alive, at least digitally. Now, in her latest novel, she again explores this notion of keeping the past alive but from an altogether new perspective: eternal life. In first-century Jerusalem, the High Priest gives Rachel and her lover, Elazar, a way to save their dying child's life, but to do so, they must sacrifice their own deaths. A no-brainer, we mortals would think, but Rachel, now 2,000 years old, craves an arc to her life that only death can bring and, with it, a release from the suffering she has enduredand watched her children endurethrough two millennia of Jewish history, from the Roman sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple, through the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust.Horn dexterously leaps across time, following various of Rachel's many lives and allowing us to see her agony build through the centuries. As Elazar, who betrayed Rachel but with whom she shares an unbreakable bond and unquenchable love, explains, It will never stop happening, Rachel. . . . Whether it's next spring or ten thousand years from nowwith every single child, you are going to watch that child die. And your husbands and lovers, too. All of them. And yetthere is always an and yet in Horn's novelsthe pull of life and of love is nearly as strong as the lure of death. In that tension, Horn constructs a deeply satisfying novel, rich not only in history and the great philosophical conundrums of living and dying but also in humor and passion.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from November 15, 2017

    Living forever is nearly everyone's fantasy, but this fresh and arresting new work from Horn (A Guide for the Perplexed) proves that it's not really what you'd want. In Roman-occupied Jerusalem, Rachel makes a spiritual bargain to spare the life of her young son, joined by his father, a priest who is not Rachel's husband. Since then, she's had dozens of marriages and hundreds of children, and we first meet her as matriarch of a contemporary American family. Rachel, a successful businesswoman, is disappointed in latest son Rocky and wary because granddaughter Hannah has won a grant to study antiaging processes, which Rachel fears will lead to her next momentous departure. Time and again, she must enter a new life, the price of saving her first son being that she's always abandoning the beloved children that followed. Meanwhile, charismatic but dangerous Elazar, frighteningly in love with her, tracks her through time as both protector and tormentor. In this brilliant take on the burdens of immortality, the protagonist is not so much bearing witness to the ages, as typically seen in such stories, but bearing huge personal costs Horn makes us feel acutely. VERDICT Both heady time travel and a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of life; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/14/17.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2017

    Living forever is nearly everyone's fantasy, but this fresh and arresting new work from Horn (A Guide for the Perplexed) proves that it's not really what you'd want. In Roman-occupied Jerusalem, Rachel makes a spiritual bargain to spare the life of her young son, joined by his father, a priest who is not Rachel's husband. Since then, she's had dozens of marriages and hundreds of children, and we first meet her as matriarch of a contemporary American family. Rachel, a successful businesswoman, is disappointed in latest son Rocky and wary because granddaughter Hannah has won a grant to study antiaging processes, which Rachel fears will lead to her next momentous departure. Time and again, she must enter a new life, the price of saving her first son being that she's always abandoning the beloved children that followed. Meanwhile, charismatic but dangerous Elazar, frighteningly in love with her, tracks her through time as both protector and tormentor. In this brilliant take on the burdens of immortality, the protagonist is not so much bearing witness to the ages, as typically seen in such stories, but bearing huge personal costs Horn makes us feel acutely. VERDICT Both heady time travel and a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of life; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/14/17.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot Riveting, startling, hilarious, and sad—I've never read anything like it.
  • Renee Ghert-Zand;Times of Israel To an extent, it's the humor (and horror) of infinite diaper changes that drives this masterful page-turner. However, Eternal Life is at its core a serious meditation on the meaning of life and purpose of death.
  • Marion Winik;Newsday Horn does not hedge her bets, whipping up a Jewish telenovela of ancient-world drama and present-day complications. It'll put you off immortality for good.
  • Julia M. Klein;Forward As a philosophical novel, Eternal Life asks the most fundamental of questions: What makes life meaningful? Is its traditional arc, from birth through family formation to death, necessary? Is it a blessing that we insufficiently appreciate?
  • Sam Sachs;Wall Street Journal Rachel speaks with the wisdom of the ancients when she observes that immortality offers no consolation for the death of others. 'Not dying doesn't make it better,' she says of all that sorrow. 'It only makes it take longer.'
  • Chelsea Leu;Los Angeles Review of Books A mature, wry, uniquely female take on the problem of immortality.
  • Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord An elegant musing on sacredness, history and purpose that is, at the same time, a deliciously romantic, highly suspenseful page-turner.
  • Ron Charles;Washington Post I have been in love with Horn's work since her first gorgeous novel, In the Image.... [Eternal Life] shimmers with Horn's signature blend of tragedy and spirituality.
  • Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies The chilling pathos of Dara Horn's Eternal Life is bound to turn every mortal reader into a philosopher of cosmic joy.
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