Eternal Life

by Dara Horn

Book, 2018

Barcode

123460663

Call number

FIC HOR

Collections

Publication

New York, NY W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018

Description

What would it really mean to live forever? Rachel is a woman with a problem: she can't die. Her recent troubles--widowhood, a failing business, an unemployed middle-aged son--are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, and hundreds of children. In the 2,000 years since she made a spiritual bargain to save the life of her first son back in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, she's tried everything to free herself, and only one other person in the world understands: a man she once loved passionately, who has been stalking her through the centuries, convinced they belong together forever. But as the twenty-first century begins and her children and grandchildren--consumed with immortality in their own ways, from the frontiers of digital currency to genetic engineering--develop new technologies that could change her fate and theirs, Rachel knows she must find a way out. Gripping, hilarious, and profoundly moving, Eternal Life celebrates the bonds between generations, the power of faith, the purpose of death, and the reasons for being alive.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This novel caught my interest because of the subject matter. Rachel is a 2000 year old woman born in Judea during the Roman occupation who cannot die. This is because of a vow that she and the father made in order to save their infant child. Because this is magic realism, it is hard to question the
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feasibility of the plot because with this subject the author creates the rules. The book deals with the important questions of immortality and family. Horn who is a mother of 4 feels strongly about the importance of family and this is obvious throughout the book. Rachel has had many different families over the years and her feeling of loss that comes from losing children weighs on her at she enters each new life. The book deals with her in the present and Horn uses this timeframe as a way to introduce the impact of changing technologies and gender roles compared to what Rachel has experienced in our previous lives. I found the concept interesting and also how she dealt with the immortality. It is not a long book and the plot twists help keep your interest. This is a book that will get you thinking and is a worthwhile read about a subject that we all deal with-mortality.
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LibraryThing member JLSlipak
Rachel is a woman with a problem: she can’t die. Her recent troubles—widowhood, a failing business, an unemployed middle-aged son—are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, and hundreds of children. In the 2,000 years since she made a spiritual bargain
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to save the life of her first son back in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, she’s tried everything to free herself, and only one other person in the world understands: a man she once loved passionately, who has been stalking her through the centuries, convinced they belong together forever.

But as the twenty-first century begins and her children and grandchildren—consumed with immortality in their own ways, from the frontiers of digital currency to genetic engineering—develop new technologies that could change her fate and theirs, Rachel knows she must find a way out.

Gripping, hilarious, and profoundly moving, Eternal Life celebrates the bonds between generations, the power of faith, the purpose of death, and the reasons for being alive.

MY THOUGHTS:

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. When I first read the synopsis to this book, I found myself getting a bit of “The Age of Adeline” vibe, a 2015 movie directed by Lee Toland Krieger. Not an exact replica vibe, mind you, but one of similar context. The main points being, the female Protagonist couldn’t die, a miracle occurred, only one other person knows the truth about her, a man she once loved passionately, but thought she was dead until a chance meeting. She too had scores of relationships and was being sought after.

If you are looking for a literary fiction written with superb quality, then this book is for you. Her style is unique and so descriptive of human emotion which is perfect for reading about the Protagonist who suffers losing family and friends with each lifetime she lives. There’s a saying: “No parent should outlive their children.” This story makes you feel this pain deep in your gut.

I loved this book and think everyone who loves this genre and style of writing should give it a try. It’s filled with Roman and Jewish historical references and fills the pages with regret, pain and suffering while making revelations about life and its sacrifices.

It’s so well done. I absolutely loved it.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
I'm at that stage of life where time seems to be racing past at breakneck speed. How did my kids grow from babbling infants to independent adults? It all seems like it happens in just a blink of the eye. And although there might be moments that feel boring (like waiting in line at DMV), in general
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there is always something interesting and new happening. But not so for the protagonist in this book, Rachel. She has lived for 2000 years. Yes, not 200, but 2000. She has lived countless different lives, buried husbands and seen the deaths of many of her children, grandchildren and great great great great grandchildren. Rachel has made a bargain with God to save the life of her first (of many) child. The price is eternal life. Although this probably seems like a gift rather than a curse, after 2000 years, Rachel wants to die.

The story bounces back and forth between ancient lives and the present day. Although the writing in various sections is captivating, and I especially loved the scenes in ancient Jerusalem, I felt like it was missing a more in depth view of why Rachel was so unhappy. It was clear that she had experienced some horrific experiences in life, losing children, and living through persecution and wars, but there must have been some redeeming parts of life. I also felt that as a character, Rachel didn't grow that much. She still seemed rash and impulsive. 2000 years! You would hope that there would be some wisdom gained along the way. But overall, it's hard not to enjoy Dara Horn's writing -- always a good story.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
So you want to live forever, do you? Well, be careful what you wish for

Author Dara Horn, in "Eternal Life," reminds her readers what life is really all about, and just how precious it is - but is that mainly because it comes to each of us in such small doses? Rachel, who has been around for more
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than 2,000 years now, would certainly tell you that that's the case.

"Eternal Life" is her story.
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase
ETERNAL LIFE by Dara Horn
So – was this a good book? It asks so many questions and doesn’t give many answers. The clear take away is: Be careful what you ask for – you might get it!
What would it be like to never die? To always return as an eighteen year old when one “life” is ended? What
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if this was punishment for sin? How many times can a person reinvent themselves and adapt to changing values, science, language, culture, etc, etc. Those are some of the questions this novel tries to answer. Rachel, a complex character born in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, lives in the pages of this book for centuries as does her co-sinner and lover. A basic knowledge of Bible history and a smattering of knowledge of the Jewish faith will help the reader grasp the nuances of the tale. When we meet Rachel in this current age, Rachel is desperate to die – permanently.
The book is well written, the characters are strong and sympathetic, the situation – well – that is a problem. First, the God who loves people, and is the God Rachel knows, wouldn’t condemn a penitent to an eternal punishment. The premise the plot is based on is false. Second, the probability of one person finding another in ancient times, or even in modern times, is minimal. So Rachel and Elazar would be unlikely to keep meeting. However, the questions the book asks are important to ponder.
So – suspend belief and enjoy the writing and the characters. It is fiction after all!
4 of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member yonitdm
Fast read, I devoured it in 2.5hrs. I love how the main characters' lives are a richly woven tapestry. I did have flash backs to 100 years of solitude type difficulty keeping the names straight though!
LibraryThing member jpeterman
I'm left feeling incredibly unsatisfied. The premise is so amazing, I really expected a lot more from this, though given the size of the book, I should have known better. A topic of this scope I personally feel can't be properly explored in only 233 pages.

By the end, I really disliked Rachel. I
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felt so terribly for Elazar. Rachel felt, to me, so... well, unintelligent. She just didn't think things through very well. She didn't listen when people were telling her things. I don't know. I don't like her! Elazar was flawed for sure as well. But he knew what was up. Even if he only ever wanted the one thing his whole life, and only ever worked towards that goal.
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LibraryThing member nmele
An interesting novel that explores the ramifications of one sort of immortality.
LibraryThing member write-review
Eternal Life Might Sound Good …

In some ways, our lengthened life spans would seem miraculous or magical to people of the 1st century, when Dara Horn’s main characters Rachel, daughter of a scribe, and Elazar, son of a high priest, were born. So, you might suppose, it is only fitting that we
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look on the never-ending lives of Rachel and Elazar with not a little touch of envy. Yet, as Horn illustrates, outliving everybody you ever knew and loved not just once or twice but time and time again takes its toll. Each passing year becomes more difficult and modern times even make restarting your life, as you must, more challenging. But more important, if you live and love, as Rachel does, you open yourself up to endless heartache. If you choose to distance yourself from your loves and family, as Elazar does to a large degree, your lives can feel empty. So, then, what appears as a blessing, as a wonderful miracle, turns out to be a curse. Of course, if everybody shared eternal life, well, that might be a different story, one, doubtless, fraught with its own plusses and minuses.

Rachel and Elazar are born and live their original lives during the days of the First Jewish-Roman War era (66-73 CE). They meet, fall in love, have sex, and Rachel becomes pregnant. She marries Zakkai, a boy indentured to her scribe father, who himself learns the scribing trade. She has the baby, a boy she names Yochanan. He becomes deathly ill. Elazar, his secret father, proposes a way to save him: take a sacred vow of eternal life. They both do. Yochanan lives. He grows to become a great teacher (he’s a real historical figure) who preserves the oral word of the Torah (redacted later in the written Mishnah) after the destruction of the Temple Mount by Titus and his Roman troops. As a result of their vows, Rachel and Elazar find themselves condemned to eternal life that includes an eternity of memories (like the siege and destruction of Jerusalem) that both must deal with, well, forever.

The novel focuses on the 21st century Rachel, an eighty-four year old, who doesn’t look her age and her meeting up with Elazar. He loves her and for him she is the only woman in the world, regardless of the century. She has conflicted feelings for him, in the extremes, uncontrollable passion and hatred, the latter for things Elazar did in their past. At eighty-four, she is at the end of her lifetime with her latest family. She must leave, but she can’t seem to. Her one great desire, shared, by Elazar, is death. And in her granddaughter, a biochemical researcher, she thinks she might have found the answer to ending her life.

Horn tells the tale succinctly, but some readers may sense a vagueness in how Rachel and Elazar pull off moving from life to life, or living those lives without folks becoming suspicious, especially when they advance in age. It’s a book for those who enjoy fantasy and who are comfortable with magical thinking.
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LibraryThing member stellarexplorer
Couldn't finish it. Read 100 pages. The writing was pedestrian and while I tend to love books with an immortality theme, this one regrettably didn't invite me in or get me to care about the story or the characters.
LibraryThing member DanTarlin
Wonderful book tells the story of Rachel, daughter of an important scribe at the end of the Second Temple era in Jerusalem and the mother of Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the sage disciple of Hillel who essentially founded modern Jewish practice in the wake of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in
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70 CE. Rachel has married an apprentice of her father, but carries on a torrid love affair with Elazar, a son of the High Priest. But when Rachel and Elazar's son Yochanan (thought by others to be the son of Zakkai) becomes gravely ill as an infant, the parents make a vow to save their son at a steep cost- they will live forever. The novel moves back and forth across 2000 years, giving back story and following Rachel in the present day, a grandmother getting ready to leave behind her current family and start anew, as she must do 70 years or so. Elazar, as he does from time to time, has found her in America where she's living and is begging her to return to him, while she cannot forgive him for an ancient sin.
The writing is great and I'm a sucker for sci fi so it's in my wheel house. It's not really sci fi, though, much more focused on the characters and the framing of eternal life as a curse rather than a blessing. I can't help thinking of a recent book in this vein, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. I wonder if Horn read that- very similar in that both books are about immortal couples navigating the world of mortals including their own children, and trying to define what their relationship to each other means.

Anyway, I'm new to Horn, who has had some publicity lately for her new book "People Love Dead Jews", but I thought I'd try her fiction first. I'm hooked, and ready for more from her.
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LibraryThing member write-review
Eternal Life Might Sound Good …

In some ways, our lengthened life spans would seem miraculous or magical to people of the 1st century, when Dara Horn’s main characters Rachel, daughter of a scribe, and Elazar, son of a high priest, were born. So, you might suppose, it is only fitting that we
Show More
look on the never-ending lives of Rachel and Elazar with not a little touch of envy. Yet, as Horn illustrates, outliving everybody you ever knew and loved not just once or twice but time and time again takes its toll. Each passing year becomes more difficult and modern times even make restarting your life, as you must, more challenging. But more important, if you live and love, as Rachel does, you open yourself up to endless heartache. If you choose to distance yourself from your loves and family, as Elazar does to a large degree, your lives can feel empty. So, then, what appears as a blessing, as a wonderful miracle, turns out to be a curse. Of course, if everybody shared eternal life, well, that might be a different story, one, doubtless, fraught with its own plusses and minuses.

Rachel and Elazar are born and live their original lives during the days of the First Jewish-Roman War era (66-73 CE). They meet, fall in love, have sex, and Rachel becomes pregnant. She marries Zakkai, a boy indentured to her scribe father, who himself learns the scribing trade. She has the baby, a boy she names Yochanan. He becomes deathly ill. Elazar, his secret father, proposes a way to save him: take a sacred vow of eternal life. They both do. Yochanan lives. He grows to become a great teacher (he’s a real historical figure) who preserves the oral word of the Torah (redacted later in the written Mishnah) after the destruction of the Temple Mount by Titus and his Roman troops. As a result of their vows, Rachel and Elazar find themselves condemned to eternal life that includes an eternity of memories (like the siege and destruction of Jerusalem) that both must deal with, well, forever.

The novel focuses on the 21st century Rachel, an eighty-four year old, who doesn’t look her age and her meeting up with Elazar. He loves her and for him she is the only woman in the world, regardless of the century. She has conflicted feelings for him, in the extremes, uncontrollable passion and hatred, the latter for things Elazar did in their past. At eighty-four, she is at the end of her lifetime with her latest family. She must leave, but she can’t seem to. Her one great desire, shared, by Elazar, is death. And in her granddaughter, a biochemical researcher, she thinks she might have found the answer to ending her life.

Horn tells the tale succinctly, but some readers may sense a vagueness in how Rachel and Elazar pull off moving from life to life, or living those lives without folks becoming suspicious, especially when they advance in age. It’s a book for those who enjoy fantasy and who are comfortable with magical thinking.
Show Less

Original publication date

2018-01-23

ISBN

0393608533
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