This piece was first published as “Facebook meets medieval Genizah in intriguing new novel” in The Times of Israel.
When author Dara Horn was growing up, she fantasized about being able to record everything that ever happened to her. She always kept journals and diaries, and she wrote everything down.
She still keeps journals — mainly ideas and observations to fuel her fiction — but now the idea of trying to remember and record absolutely everything is far less appealing. This no doubt has something to do with her busy days as a 36-year-old working mother of four children under the age of nine. But Horn believes it has even more to do with the era in which we are living.
“Technology has turned my childhood dream into a nightmare!” Horn exclaims in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel from her home in Short Hills, New Jersey. She’s paid close attention to how social media, which was originally about sharing, has become much more about recording the minutia of our lives.
“Technology has changed the capacity of how we remember, it’s turning personal memory into public history.”
This was the observation that launched Horn into her new and fourth novel, “A Guide for the Perplexed.” Published earlier this month, it is intriguing readers with its four different narrative strands spanning millennia of Jewish time and space, which Horn deftly weaves together while asking two key questions: “How does memory differ from history?” and “How can we have free will, if all is predetermined?”
The contemporary strand places the novel in the near future, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where brilliant software developer and Internet entrepreneur Josie Ashkenazi has invented a social media platform called Genizah that not only allows users to upload any and all information (photos, videos, text, medical records — you name it) into a virtual storage space, but also automatically records everything users do and catalogs the uploaded information according to users’ instincts and routines.
Josie is married to Itamar Mizrachi, an Israeli man who helps run her company, and together they have a young daughter named Tali. Also in the family picture is Josie’s older sister Judith, who works at Josie’s company and has always been envious of her brilliant and beautiful sibling. When, at Judith’s urging, Josie takes a short-term consulting gig in post-Arab Spring Egypt (she is brought in to help with the digitizing of the archive at the Library of Alexandria) and disappears after being kidnapped, Judith insinuates herself into Itamar and Tali’s lives.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.