I wish I enjoyed Dara Horn’s “The World to Come”, but I didn’t. It’s the story of a drawing by Marc Chagall, a drawing that was produced in Russia at an orphanage where Chagall taught for a short while and given to a young orphan, a potentially talented artist. It winds up on a wall in New Jersey, brought to the United States by the daughter of the orphan, herself an author of well praised children’s fables, until she needs to sell it for financial reasons. But she is cheated out of her sales price, and the picture disappears, only to show up years later as part of an exhibition in the Jewish Museum in New York. The orphan’s grandson stumbles upon it there, recognizes it, and steals it.
A primitive orphanage in Russia. Chagall’s success after he leaves Russia. Yiddish author Der Nister’s struggling in the Soviet Union, until he is arrested and murdered. Young Ben in his scoliosis brace. His father returned from Vietnam minus a leg, and the story of how he was injured. Ben’s mother Rosalie, a Russian immigrant who became a well known writer of children’s books, but whose originality turned out not to be very original. Ben’s twin sister Sarah, a young artist, so unlike her brother. Erica, who works at the museum, and takes a fancy to Ben. Leonid, Ben’s Soviet bar mitzvah twin, who winds up in Ben’s New Jersey town as a big bully and gang member, but who mends his ways and becomes Sarah’s perfect husband. Russian hooligans, cheating Rosalie out of her Chagall.
And then there are Rosalie’s stories, mixing tales of the afterlife and of life before birth, so that you become unsure whether Horn is writing a realistic story, or a fable herself.
Too much, I thought. So many different themes that none of them were adequately developed. I found it hard to keep my interest in the book. I certainly didn’t care what was going to happen next. The fables were not of interest to me. And the book ended with a whimper, not a bang.