The World To Come

Written by Dara Horn
Review by Vicki Kondelik

The World to Come is, quite simply, one of the best novels I have read in a long time. At the heart of the book is the story of the Ziskind twins, Ben and Sara. Ben, a former child prodigy, now writes questions for a quiz show and feels lonely after his wife of less than a year has left him. Sara, an artist, married to Ben’s Russian bar mitzvah “twin,” is expecting her first child. At a singles’ cocktail hour in a New York museum, Ben steals a Chagall painting which, he is certain, used to belong to his family. He persuades Sara to make a forgery that will convince the experts, so that he can send it to the museum in place of the original. Meanwhile, he discovers evidence that the “original” painting may have been a forgery itself.

In 1920s Russia, Boris, who will eventually become the grandfather of the Ziskinds, grows up in a Jewish orphanage where Chagall teaches art. His encounter with Chagall and his housemate, the Yiddish author Der Nister, sets in motion the story of the painting which will eventually belong to the Ziskinds. We follow Der Nister’s life in Soviet Russia, as his friend Chagall becomes world-famous while his own work is forgotten. Another thread tells of the horrifying experiences of the Ziskind twins’ father in the Vietnam War. The whole last chapter is an extended fable set in the “world to come,” a paradise inhabited by those not yet born and those who have died. Horn also retells various Yiddish stories throughout the book. But it is impossible to do justice to this multi-layered novel in such a short space. Horn tells a beautifully-written story which joins the threads into a seamless whole and which will stay with you long after you have finished.