Two Recent Novels about Undying Jewish Women Make Distinctive Statements about Human Purpose

March 11 2019

The protagonist of Dara Horn’s Eternal Life is a Second Temple-era Jewish woman cursed with eternal life. Similarly, the protagonist of Sarah Perry’s Melmoth is a Jewish woman from the same time but, in her case, fated to wander the earth for eternity as punishment for witnessing Jesus’ resurrection and then denying she did so. Michael Weingrad notes a singular difference in how the two books address their shared central question of “why go on?”

Horn [considers]—and this is what makes her tale so distinctive—not the value of an individual life but the determination to be fruitful and multiply, to continue the Jewish story through our children and our children’s children. Horn shows that the will to enlarge a family is the deepest expression of faith not only in the divine but in the human, too. As contemporary demography suggests, when that faith weakens, birthrates fall. Human concern retreats to the shape and duration of the individual’s life. The import of Horn’s book for our moment, then, is not [her protagonist] Rachel’s longevity but her natality. . . .

[By contrast], Perry’s wraith-like wanderer is an eternal witness to human cruelty with none of the consolations of religious belief. The subjects of her visitations are bystanders, and sometimes worse, to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, Christian religious persecution, violent misogyny, the deportation of illegal immigrants, and the criminalization of euthanasia. Call it progressive gothic.

Like Horn’s novel, Perry’s asks: why go on? But here the question means, why go on when humanity is so ugly? Why go on when each of us is so implicated in the injustices of the world? . . .

I couldn’t help being struck by the fact that not one of the half-dozen or so characters visited by Perry’s [protagonist] has children. Some are married, some elderly, but none, it seems, is a parent. Perry’s novel seems to warn of the despair that accrues from witnessing the world without a vantage point larger than the self. Horn’s is about a certain hopeful yearning for the world, a hope that in some sense is our children.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Children, Dara Horn, Jewish literature

 

War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.com. . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy