Friday, October 18

Katz Festival: A Meditation on Memory

by Glenn Halberstadt

A few years ago, in a post for The Indianapolis Public Library, 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 author Dara Horn for her story of Josephine and Judith in the new novel, A Guide for the Perplexed.

Software 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.

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 holy documents piled on top of each other; and then looks back even further, 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.

Now you can learn more about the making of this great work straight from the author during her scheduled appearance at the JCC on October 30th, as part of the Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts. If you haven’t already marked your calendars, plan to join Ms. Horn at 7:00 p.m.

Copies of A Guide for the Perplexed are available for sale at the JCC.

Guest blogger Glenn Halberstadt works for the Indianapolis Public Library, where he edits the Reader’s Connection blog and contributes other web content.

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