By Dara Horn (288 Pages)Publisher: WW Horton, 2002
In Hebrew and Yiddish literature, even secular books are often in some way commentaries on the Hebrew Bible; every word can have layers of scriptural resonance. In the Image weaves this rich literary tradition into a spellbinding contemporary narrative, delivered by a naturally gifted storyteller.
Bill Landsmann, an elderly Jewish refugee in a New Jersey suburb with a passion for travel, is obsessed with building his slide collection of images from the Bible that he finds scattered throughout the world. The novel begins when he crosses paths with his granddaughter's friend Leora, and continues by moving forward through her life and backward through his, revealing the unexpected links between his family's past and her family's future.
Full of gorgeous and often humorous meditations on what is gained and lost in the modern world, In the Image addresses the challenges of assimilation through several generations of Landsmanns -- their loves, betrayals, and struggles with tradition -- in Amsterdam, Austria, and turn-of-the-century New York. And it reveals how those struggles remain alive in Leora's generation, leading the least likely young people to reconsider who they are and who they want to be. More important, In the Image is a narrative foray into the nature of good and evil; of the significance of tradition and law; of the presence or absence of God. In a brilliant and inspired climax, in the wake of a devastating flood in New Jersey, the author retells the Book of Job in traditional cadence but contemporary terms -- insisting that people are not helplessly defined by their experiences, but ultimately shaped by how they react to them.
Not just a first novel but a cultural event -- a wedding of secular and religious forms of literature -- In the Image neither lives in the past nor seeks to escape it, but rather assimilates it, in the best sense of the word, honoring what is lost and finding, among the lost things, the treasures that can renew the present.