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A Guide for the Perplexed

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,557 ratings  ·  457 reviews
The incomparable Dara Horn returns with a spellbinding novel of how technology changes memory and how memory shapes the soul.

Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented an application 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 postrevolutionary chaos, J
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published September 9th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Like other novels by the talented Dara Horn, this book has layers upon layers that challenge the reader intellectually without pulling you away from the story.

This book is, on one level, a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, who was sold into bondage in Egypt by his jealous brothers. If you haven’t read that story in a while, I won’t mention many more parallels, lest it be spoilery. But in a nice twist, rather than Joseph, we have a story about Josephine (or “Josie”), and her envious sist
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was left speechless by this book. It is a story within a story within a story, all in a larger context of the questions: "what is memory?" and "who am I, really?" It also explores the superficial and deeper meaning of relationships and connections, providing much food for thought (and Torah drashes, if one is inclined in that direction, as I am). Dara Horn uses the famous text by Moses Maimonides as the inspiration for her title, and incorporates his life and work into the story. It is very ha ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2013
Here is a short list that should tell you everything I think about this book:

1. I got it at BEA.

2. I carried it around during like the wettest two weeks ever, even in a derecho, and it is pretty well destroyed.

3. I finished it at the park, lying in the last sun rays of the day.

4. I will be gifting it to my mom next time I see her.

So there you have it, right?


Okay, let me break it down.

1. means that A Guide for the Perplexed is going to be pushed hard by Norton, and also that it's made for ma
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I have been a big fan of Dara Horn and loved "The World to Come."

I have also done a lot of reading in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed (I am a rabbi and a philosophy major)

So I was looking forward to reading this book a great deal.

But I found it deeply disappointing. I enjoyed the sections on Solomon Schechter and, to a lesser extent, the parts reflecting on the life of Maimonides. Yet the contemporary sections struck me as contrived, completely improbably and, worst of all, cruel. I did no
Jan Rice
Here is the challenge of a 19th century Jewish pioneer in Palestine, after a fall through a hole in the earth, to his twin brother, a Cambridge scholar:

...While I was waiting to be rescued, I wondered how old the cistern must have been. On the floor I found the answer: a bronze coin from the time of the Maccabees, lying at my feet. I'm sure you make all kinds of important discoveries in your fancy library every day, but I doubt you will ever fall through a hole in the floor and land in the memor
Sep 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
For fear of appearing ungrateful for winning a Giveaway, I wanted to give this book 2 stars. However, I feel that honesty (especially where books are concerned) is more important than winning more free books.

Reading this book felt like work. Had I not felt a sense of obligation to finish it, I would have stopped reading very early on and returned it to the library as I usually do with books that just aren't sitting well with me. However, I trudged through. There were a few chapters that were in
Sue  Parker Gerson
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's rare that I give any book a five star rating. This one earned it, in spades. The triple story line involving modern characters, Solomon Schechter, and Maimonides (overlaid with biblical and psychological themes) is masterful. Brava, Dara Horn.
Suanne Laqueur
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I read Dara Horn's The World to Come and loved it. I didn't love this one as much, I skimmed much of the philosophical stuff and didn't really feel Schuster's narrative was necessary. But now I know I really REALLY like Dara Horn and she has such a lovely long backlist for me to go through. (My TBR list is looking at me wide-eyed, shaking its head. No. Not more books. No. No more. Please...) ...more
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I began this book with low expectations, as the Washington Post had only given it a middling review. To my surprise, I loved it. The characters are fresh and interesting. Most of the characters are majorly flawed in some way - arrogant, manipulative, etc. But Horn makes the reader understand what twisted the people in such a way, so that they feel utterly real, and become more sympathetic as the novel develops.

The parallel storylines show how different pairs of siblings throughout history dealt
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I always feel smarter after reading a Dara Horn novel. They are always filled with historical nuggets that often too strange to be true -- but are. Her novels also often read as modern fables and always raise big questions for the reader to ponder. She is a joy to read, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten an advance copy of The Guide for the Perplexed.
Doris Jean
The title is the same as the work by the famous twelfth-century scholar, Rabbi Maimonides. The author seems to have been inspired by the famous work of Maimonides and by the findings of a Cambridge professor, Solomon Schechter, who about one hundred years ago made an important discovery in Cairo of a Genizah (means "hiding place"), a storage vessel of a stash of random writings. Among the papers found in the Genizah were discovered original writings of Maimonides. Add to this contemplations on h ...more
Zoe's Human
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: family-saga
A bittersweet tale of sisters with a layering of stories that reflects the stratum of their relationship. It is both intricate and evocative. The darkness of the story and ethical complexity of the cast may lack appeal for those who prefer characters of more clear cut morality. Personally, I prefer unidealized protagonists.
Elyse  Walters
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such Rich texture of a novel...beautifully crafted!
Engaging 'knots-in-your-tummy' page turning disturbing parts to read.
Thought-provoking- From the very first page --to the last page.

"Stories from Genesis, medieval philosophy, and the digital frontier, A Guide For the Perplexed, is a novel of profound inner meaning and astonishing imagination" [this quote is taken from the 'flap' of the hardcover book]. I could not invent a better sentence to describe the basic details which to tell others --
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
A Guide for the Perplexed lives up to its title - perplexing. Dara Horn has done a great job of trying to tackle life's big questions: predestination v. free will; memory versus reality; envy and rivalry between siblings. She touches upon the disappointments of the Arab Spring, and takes us into the time of Maimonides (mid 1100s to early 1200) and the time of Solomon Schechter (mid 1800s) and two ladies who were also involved in the Cairo Genizah documents and bringing them to light. All of them ...more
Oct 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
The fundamental IDEA behind this book is fascinating: what happens if we remember too much? This question was taken up by Horn in a recent Op/Ed piece in the Washington Post and was the reason I picked up this book. In the article, Horn suggests that by remembering everything, we remember nothing, and she relates this postulate to our society's Facebook and Evernote obsessed tendency to save and file.

It's a wonderful insight which Horn makes flesh through a modern retelling of the Joseph story a

There are 5 theories concerning divine providence. p159

On the one extreme there is no providence at all; everything owes their origin to accident and chance. The other extreme posits that everything unfolds according to it's divine providence. Both extremes have their scientific and whimsical rationale. Between them are the theories that attempt to define their position by the degrees of free will that mediate between the extreme positions.

Dara Horn riffs on medieval scholarship and in particul
Bill Dauster
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Dara Horn’s “A Guide for the Perplexed” is an elegant, finely-crafted retelling of the Joseph story from Genesis 36-50. Horn recasts Joseph and Judah as sisters Josie and Judith. Josie is the gifted developer of software (called “Geniza”) that organizes memories. Thomas Mann wrote in the opening lines of his magisterial retelling of the Joseph story “Joseph and His Brothers,” “Deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?” And Horn, like Mann before her, skillfully plays on the ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
This was an ambitious novel with an interesting subject matter but it's downfall may have been due to it being to ambitious. There are three story lines and the modern story while engaging felt contrived and with some unrealistic occurrences.

The main down fall for me was that the book lacked the subtlety of her other novels. Every thing is in your face and clearly explained. The ending even tries to explain the messages in the book. The author needs to trust the reader and accept that not every
Maggie Anton
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it
I didn't know how to rate this novel. The writing is superb, but the characters are mostly unlikeable, especially those in the modern subplot. Yes Horn wove the 3 parts together well, but I couldn't stand the modern one and eventually skipped those chapters altogether to concentrate on the Maimonides sections. While this book is supposed to be based on the biblical Joseph story [albeit with sisters Josephine and Judith], at least the Bible has an uplifting ending of forgiveness and redemption.
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook, english, 2016
It took me a while to finish it (only because my English is still poor), but I loved it and in the end I almost could not let it go. I guess the next book will be the prequel. :)
Dara Horn knows how to write, that National Jewish Book Award was surely merited (even if not for this book). I highly recommend this book and I cannot say it enough: ***do not google the book***, for the web is full of spoilers, which is a pity (!!!).
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I rarely want to read a book again but this book had so many layers of meaning I am certain I missed something. Fascinating book. Excellent for book club discussions
Aliena Jackson
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
When I look back on this book and try to gage my emotions, all I feel is confusion and sadness.
Neither sister is very likeable but I enjoyed the historical parts of the book.
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A Guide for the Perplexed

When my children were born and as they were growing up I took pictures of every
event in their lives and recorded every milestone in a book so that nothing would be
lost to faulty memory. It has become a fascination with people in my baby boom generation to trace our roots. We are looking for the story of our family’s past, our connection to our history.

In Dara Horn’s new book, A Guide for the Perplexed she takes this concept of people recording every aspect of their live
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Dara Horn is an ambitious novelist. In "A Guide for the Perplexed," she tackles simultaneously issues of sibling rivalry, with clear references to the biblical Joseph and his brothers and the preservation of memory and how it has been kept over the centuries. All this is spun around a semi-thriller involving the protagonist, Josie Ashkenazi, a young, brilliant and successful tech wizard who is abducted while on a consulting mission at the Library of Alexandria.

Several aspects of the narrative ar
Kristine Gift
Feb 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: winter-13-14
First and foremost, I loved the themes and connections in this book. The themes of memory and knowledge, and connections between characters across time & space using asthma, sibling rivalry and Jewish heritage as powerful links between characters who are living a hundred to a thousand years apart. It was interesting to see how Horn tied everything together through these links and the dual themes which discuss memory and knowledge.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the tying-together. Th
Michelle Kuhn
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best fiction books I have read recently- an interesting mixture of philosophical themes of God; fate/free will; the limitations of memory and the impact of our choices on the paths that we might have taken, doors that might have opened. The book also takes a deep dive into the relationship of two sisters, one intoxicated with jealousy for the other for their entire lives. The story is told from multiple time periods and perspectives. The only story I didn’t quite grasp the purpose of ...more
Andy Oram
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
This is a deep book--or aspires to be one and at least comes close--dealing with such timeless philosophical issues as the value of truth. The book is thoroughly mordern and relevant to the digital age, expertly rendered in the book in the form of fictional software that lets people preserve photos and memories of the world. Do we want to preserve what our lives really have been, or what we would like our lives to have been? The philosophical inquiries are not dropped on us heavy-handedly, but a ...more
Joan Gelfand
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Maybe it's because i'm just such a huge fan of Horn that I'm predisposed to her work! (This is the pay off for writing fabulous, smart novels - your fans start with a positive attitude.) I loved the braiding of the historical story of Schecter with the current, pretty edgy story of Yosefi and her Israeli husband and jealous sister. I love how in the end the sister does what's right. I love the METAPHOR of the Genizah - of the ancient Genizah and our current obsession with documenting, saving mom ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
An enjoyable read, very knowledgable about the Rambam and his teachings, great historical background, but some plotlines are pretty implausible, a little heavy on the Bible-story-in-modern-times theme, and very heavy on the sisters-brothers theme.
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Dara Horn, the author of the novels All Other Nights, The World to Come, and In the Image, is one of Granta’s "Best Young American Novelists" and the winner of two National Jewish Book Awards. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.

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