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Josephine and Judith

October 11, 2013 by Reader's Connection

A few years ago, I raved about Leon R. Kass’s book The Beginning of Wisdom : Reading Genesis. I was grateful for Kass’s insights into the story of Joseph and Judah and their other brothers. Now I would like to thank Dara Horn, author of the new novel A Guide for the Perplexed, for her story of Josephine and Judith.

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A Guide for the PerplexedSoftware whiz Josephine Ashkenazi has invented a program called Genizah, which allows its users to preserve their memories. To this reader, it sounds worse–more sentimental, more knee-jerky, more encouraging of delusion–even than Facebook; and it’s a huge success.

Unlike Joseph in the Bible, Josie has only one sibling; but sister Judith has enough bottled-up envy for a few dozen brothers. She encourages her more celebrated, more beloved sister to travel to Egypt, where Josie is taken captive, and is thought to be murdered.

In addition to being a suspense story, A Guide for the Perplexed is a meditation on the creation of memory, and on the pull that siblings have on each other; and the meditation isn’t confined within the twenty-first century. It  looks back a hundred years to the story of Cambridge scholar Solomon Schechter, who (in real life) discovered the Cairo Genizah–a room full of documents piled on top of each other; and then looks back even farther, to the life of the philosopher and physician Moses Maimonides (d. 1204), who, like Schechter, had sibling issues. You may be thinking that this is a recipe for perplexity, rather than any sort of guide; but when I was finished reading, the strands had pulled together.

Dara Horn is scheduled to appear at the Jewish Community Center on October 30th, as part of this year’s Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts. My next post will be about the whole festival, but I was excited, and wanted to lead off with a word about the Guide.

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