A thrilling new novel exploring how memory shapes the soul, by "an astonishing storyteller." Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented a program that records everything its users do. When an Egyptian library invites her to visit as a consultant, her jealous sister Judith persuades her to go. But in Egypt's post-revolutionary chaos, Josie is kidnapped - leaving Judith free to usurp her sister's life, including her husband and daughter, while Josie's talent for preserving memories becomes her only hope of escape. A century earlier, Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor, hunts for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. What he finds will reveal the power and danger of the world Josie's work brings into being - a world where nothing is ever forgotten. Interweaving stories from Genesis, medieval philosophy, and the digital frontier, A Guide for the Perplexed is a spellbinding tale sure to bring a vast new listener to the acclaimed work of Dara Horn.
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There are several themes in this book, among them sibling relationships and memory vs. history. Several sets of siblings are depicted, the prevalent ones being the sisters Josie and Judith, whose relationship makes a good case for having an only child. At the very end, there is Josie's daughter and her younger sister. There are also Maimonides and his brother, Solomon Schechter and his twin brother, and the twin sisters who first brought the Cairo Geniza to the attention of Solomon Schechter. The author attempts to weave together three stories - one of Maimonides, one of Solomon Schechter, and one of the contemporary Judith and Josie, Josie's spouse Itamar, and their daughter Tali. I found the interweaving of these stories too contrived. My guess is that the author thought it is a clever device, but I found that making a connection between modern-day software, called Geniza, where the purpose of the software is to keep record and catalog of all details about a person's life a rather weak ploy to then connect to the story of Solomon Schechter and his recovery of documents from the Cairo Geniza. The connection to Maimonides is even weaker - one of the documents found in the Cairo Geniza was a letter Maimonides wrote following his brother's death. So now we have a connection to another famous pair of siblings, with a very different relationship from that of Judith and Josie. But what exactly is the relevance of this to the main story? Not anything of substance, really. Putting a copy of a Hebrew translation of Maimonides Guide for the Perplexed into the main story was also very contrived and not very credible - Josie just happened to find it in the Alexandria library, and her captor just happened to allow her to keep it in the cell she was chained in. Since I am very familiar with the available historical record (vs. fictionalized accounts) of Maimonides' life and of Solomon Schechter, I found these secondary stories to be like padding in the main story, though I recognize that many, probably most, readers are not familiar. But was the purpose merely educational? I don't know. The main story itself did have suspense and does keep you wanting to hear more - interruptions with the secondary stories seemed to be just that: interruptions. The other prevalent theme is memory, and the question of how important is it that it be close to reality. This is an interesting question. We all know, for example, that people are promoted after they die. They are almost always more righteous, loving, giving, etc. than in real life. Is this a good thing? Sometimes. It is good to keep the best recollections, sometimes. But sometimes, turning a blind eye to something troubling prevents righting a wrong. Was it good for Tali to be deluded at the end about the relationship between her mother and her aunt? I'm not sure. Are historians wrong in trying to correct misconceptions about the past, when new evidence is discovered, or perhaps when hidden or sealed records are finally made available to the public? I don't think so. These are questions that perhaps one could discuss after reading this book. I found the narrator to be mediocre. Some of the voices and accents were good (I think the two sisters in Cambridge were the best), but some were rather amateurish sounding. The narrator definitely needed some work on her Hebrew. Some words she got quite well, but others were poorly pronounced, and I don't get why it is so difficult to find a native speaker who could record proper pronunciation for a narrator to practice before recording. Because I speak Hebrew, I found it particularly annoying to hear, for example, Moshay all the time for Moshe (Maimonides). But when she said the name in French, Moise, it was really pathetic - there is a website pronouncenames.com and she should have checked. She pronounced it like the French moi followed by a z, rather than the way it is pronounced (mo-eeze, sort of, but not exact, because English vowels are different from French vowels). The narration did not measure up at all to some of the great narrators that we sometimes can hear in books from Audible. And the book did not measure up, either. It was entertaining, mostly, but there are so many books out there, this does not belong high on your list.
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
A reader who could pronounce the words correctly. It was tremendously grating to hear her say the name Moshe, as "Mo Shay". Likewise for Shiva, and a host of other words. This was the wrong narrator for this text.
What was most disappointing about Dara Horn’s story?
The story had no interesting develpments. Turned out to be trite, unsophisticated pablum. Such a shame.
How could the performance have been better?
The narrator did not pronounce Jewish, Hebrew, or Yiddish words anywhere near correctly. A terrible narrator selection for this book.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
There were several elements to the book which had potential to be fulfilling, but sadly, the work turned out the be a tremendous disappointment.
Any additional comments?
I cannot believe this was a PJ library adult selection. Usually, the PJ library books for kids are excellent. Terrible disappointment.