In the Image is a stunning first novel by a Harvard doctoral candidate, Dara Horn. Her characters are richly developed and enveloped in a sort of holiness. Even her "bad guys" are wholly human. Leora enters the story immediately as a 17-year-old, traditional Jewish girl whose best friend is hit by a car and killed. She freezes emotionally, always relating to how the continuum of her life would have been different if Naomi had lived. Shortly before her death, Naomi spoke to Leora of the potential of living to maturity, a potential she never realized:
"Young people, she once told Leora, are like blind heaps of clay, formless and in that formlessness lies an infinite number of possibilities. Some seize that wet potential in their hands, sculpting shapes never seen before. Others bewildered by choice, simply pour themselves into a mold. Still others are afraid to commit to even the slightest dent, mercilessly kneading and unkneading every last piece, dreading the moment when they will inevitably harden."
Naomi's philosophy sounds Biblical, as does much of Horn's story. Yet Leora moves on through school, her first love, a journalism career and an emerging interest in the 17th century rationalist philosopher, Benedict Spinosa. This intelligent, quirky young woman manages to finagle a story assignment in Amsterdam to coincide with a Spinosa conference. There she meets a young professor who is presenting a paper about the philosopher's excommunication from the Amsterdam Jewish community. Boy meets girl. Sounds like a typical, if exceptionally well written love story, but it is so much more.
While Leora's life moves forward, her path crosses that of Wilhelm/William/ Bill Landsmann, Naomi's grandfather, who is trying to regain a sense of his granddaughter's unlived life. Interwoven with Leora's move forward is Bill Landsmann's history, full of pathos and moving back and forth. It is the story of someone who has every reason to give up and not believe in God, yet he perseveres.
We are caught up in a tapestry of tradition, good and evil, love and betrayal, accident and flood. Horn's imagination and skill are awesome to behold.
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