A Guide for the Perplexed
The ancient Jewish scholar, Maimonides (the Rambam), who lived in the Middle Ages, wrote The Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical guide to understanding the universe and religion. Using the original text as a backdrop, Dara Horn introduces the reader to Josie Ashkenazi, a brilliant Jewish computer guru who has invented a program called “Geniza” that records virtually everything you do, even your memories.
Josie has an enviable life. Not only is she wealthy, she has a good marriage to Israeli-born Itamar and a daughter – everything her sister, Judith, does not have. The sisters have a precarious relationship: Josie feels obligated to employ Judith at the company she founded, and Judith envies Josie’s life, so much so that Judith convinces Josie to accept an invitation to Egypt to show her software, knowing that Josie will be in danger if she goes because of the political unrest in that country.
On her business trip, Josie is kidnapped and believed dead, while, on the other side of the world, Judith inserts herself into Josie’s old life. When a mysterious text appears on Judith’s phone purporting to be from Josie, Judith must make a life-altering decision.
Woven within the novel is the backstory of Solomon Schechter, a real-life historical rabbi and scholar known for being the founder of Conservative Judaism and for uncovering thousands of pages of Hebrew manuscripts that were hidden in an Egyptian synagogue, known as the Cairo Geniza. Somehow Horn also manages to fit in a side story about the Rambam.
Horn brilliantly intertwines fact and fiction in this wholly engrossing, though complex novel that blends such themes as the bonds of sisterhood, the risks of technology and the value of preservation ancient texts. Sometimes the book gets too bogged down in the intricacies of Josie’s fictional computer program, but ultimately that does not detract from the overall reading experience.