A Call to Write


Dara Horn reminded me that the freedom to express ourselves must override the fear of rejection.
by Farideh Goldin

Book Selection: The World to Come by Dara Horn (W.W. Norton Company, 2006)

Teachers of creative writing love to say that every new story is an echo of an old story retold with a twist. The writers past don’t just inspire but also provide raw material for new narratives. Therefore, it is essential for contemporary writers to read great literature.  Inspired by great Jewish authors, Dara Horn’s The World to Come in turn can energize contemporary writers.

Horn’s novel, full of twists and turns throughout places and time, is (at least in part) about Ben, a child prodigy, who steals a Chagall painting from a local museum, believing it belongs to his family. Horn then takes the reader through a wild journey that follows the fascinating life of this painting.

Being a Yiddish scholar, Horn conjures classical writers of Jewish literature such as Nachum of Bratslav, Sholom Aleichem and I.L. Peretz to shape her novel. One of her characters, Rosalie (Ben’s mother), plagiarizes these authors’ stories, presenting them as children’s books after publishers refuse to accept them with the “dead authors’ names.”  Ben defends his mother against accusations of literary fraudulence. “My mother,” he retorts, “rescued all these stories that were buried in library vaults and that no one would ever read again.” Horn’s infectious enthusiasm inspired me to steep myself in Yiddish literature. Her knowledge of Yiddish stories and their writers is a catalyst in creating her books, and her method becomes a lesson for any writer, including myself.

Horn also reminds her readers of the dangers and limitations confronting Jewish writers throughout history. The World to Come centers on the arts, by which Horn opens a door to the creative process. She helps her readers see how images or words are pondered, painstakingly put on canvas or paper and then too often destroyed, stolen or forgotten. “Der Nister was constantly aware of the eye and the ear…Nearly all of the other Yiddish writers had vanished…Since 1948, the Soviet secret police had begun collecting them one by one as if trying to assemble a living encyclopedia of Yiddish literature, arranging them alphabetically in their prison cells and then lining them up by literary catalogue number in front of the firing squad.”

Such awareness of loss touches me because I come from a time and a place—namely, pre-revolutionary Iran-when and where reading and writing invited political as well as social perils. Born in 1953, I grew up in a Jewish community in an increasingly hostile Islamic estate. Many Iranian writers suffered during the reign of the Pahlavis, the Shah of Iran, and many more were assassinated after the Revolution. Growing up in Iran, I yearned to be a writer; I dreamt it.  I am lucky to have immigrated to the United States before the Islamic Revolution, thereby escaping much of the humiliation and fear that other Iranian Jews endured.  In my adopted country I enjoy the freedoms that have been denied of other writers in Iran.

However, long lonely hours at the computer can be frustrating for any writer, sometimes creating stories and essays that do not find homes. I admit that I have pushed away stories that form in my head on my morning walks or during the long drives to visit my daughters, stories that wake me up at night, demanding a place on the blank paper in my printer. I sometimes purge them because it is easier not to write then to face potential rejection.

Reading The World to Come, I felt as though Dara Horn were addressing me personally, admonishing me for wasting the gifts of freedom of speech and pen that have been denied to Iranian writers, to many Jewish writers. By recreating the lives of Jewish authors whose books disappeared in revolutions, who were arrested and murdered for creating art, Horn challenges those of us who can but do not write. Her example encourages me to keep on writing every day a line, a paragraph, a page.

About the Author

author_faridehFarideh Goldin
Farideh Goldin is the author of Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman (Brandeis University Press, 2003), her story about growing up in the shadow of religious fundamentalism. In addition to her own stories, which have been widely published, Goldin has shared her knowledge of Iranian Jews with audiences around the United States, recreating Iranian Jewish women’s lives and discussing their writings both in Iran and in exile.

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