Reviewed by Ambrea
Rachel Azaria cannot die. Since she made a deal to save her firstborn child more than two thousand years ago, Rachel has learned she cannot die. She has married countless men, borne hundreds of children, and lived dozens of lives; now, in the modern world, she’s faced with the prospect of losing a new family as her time with them slowly ebbs away. But as Rachel grapples with her mortality—or lack thereof—she’s forced to reconnect with the man she once loved and who also shares her curse.
Eternal Life by Dara Horn is an interesting novel. I think I originally picked it up because the cover reminded me of Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni—shades of midnight blue and azure mixed with gold—but I was ultimately drawn in by the story. Like The Golem and the Jinni, Horn’s novel draws on ancient Jewish tradition and myth and history to create a compelling story; however, it approaches faith, morality, immortality, and magic or mysticism in a very different way.
Eternal Life is also novel that poses a universal question: What is the meaning of life—and what will a person do when faced with immortality? Horn doesn’t necessarily try to answer the first question; rather, she offers one story from the perspective of one person and tries to take on the notion of what makes a life worth living. It’s interesting to see the ways in which Rachel’s and Elazar’s lives develop as they grapple with these ideas and try to understand their place in the world.
Besides her exploration of very complex themes, Horn also delves into historical locations and events, which I really enjoyed. I found it interesting to see Rachel’s “first life” in Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple and, likewise, I liked seeing little snippets of history—ancient civilizations in the Middle East, small towns in medieval Europe, glittering new cities in America. I wish more of Rachel’s previous “lives” had been portrayed. I would have liked to see more of what she faced throughout history, but, sadly, much of the book bounces between her early life and her new life in America.
Overall, I really, really liked—I won’t say love, not quite love—Eternal Life. It’s one of those books that manages to stick with me. It has a heart, no matter how tragic the story can become, and it hinges on hope. It made me think and, like The Golem and the Jinni or, even better, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, it made me enjoy the simple pleasure of reading. I thought it was beautifully written and lovely all around, like listening to a storyteller.
I was immediately sucked into the novel and I truly enjoyed following Rachel’s story, even if her life (or lives) didn’t go quite how I would have expected. Although I was left with some lingering questions, specifically about her curse and what it means for her now that I’ve finished the book, I found it to be a very interesting and fulfilling novel. I think it will stay with me, even after I return it to the shelves.