Archive for May 27th, 2014

Painting a family’s story over four generations: Dara Horn triumphs in ‘The World to Come’

May 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 27, 2014

Dara Horn’s wonderful 2006 novel, The World to Come, is the tale of four generations of a family and two artists whom their progenitor met in the Soviet Union in 1920.

The tale begins in the present day when a man steals a Marc Chagall painting. The thief is a twin whose mother died recently; at around the same time, he was divorced by his unfaithful wife after an 11-month marriage. The dual blow, which follows the painful death of his father when he was 11 years old, has left the intelligent but shrimpy and uncharismatic man bereft.

Lately it had begun to seem to Benjamin Ziskind that the entire world was dead, that he was a citizen of a necropolis. While his parents were living, Ben had thought about them only when it made sense to think about them, when he was talking to them, or talking about them, or planning something involving them. But now they were always here, reminding him of their presence at every moment. He saw them in the streets, always from behind, or turning a corner, his father sitting in the bright yellow taxi next to his, shifting in his seat as the cab screeched away in the opposite direction, his mother — dead six months now, though it felt like one long night — hurrying along the sidewalk on a Sunday morning, turning into a store just when Ben had come close enough to see her face. It was a relief that Ben could close his office door.

Benjamin Ziskind takes “Study for ‘Over Vitebsk’” when it is left completely unattended during a cocktail reception at a New York City museum. (In real life, that painting actually was stolen in just those circumstances.) The theft is impulsive, a crime of opportunity, but Ziskind also views it as an act of redress. The Chagall study had long been in the family; he thinks of it as having been stolen, for reasons that aren’t revealed until the book is nearly over.

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