Eternal Life

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2017

Member Reviews

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live forever, to never die?  I know as I am now living in the second half life, assuming that fifty is the midpoint, I start to chant the Jewish blessing as an incantation, "May you live to 120".  It is based on the most often cited sources in Bereishit  (Genesis) 6:3 and in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 34:7.  The age of Moses upon his death is given as 120, and the text explains, "his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished."  That is also important, that we live a long healthy and happy life.  The idea being that life is so enjoyable that we do not want to leave.

Author,  Dara Horn has given us a novel that will keep you thinking about living for eternity for quite some time after you put the book down.  As I finished this novel, Eternal Life, I sat wondering what it would be like to continue to live on as those I love in my life were not.  It is something many of us have thought about as we age or get sick, wondering if it would be possible to stay the same age or find a cure to keep us alive longer.  Right off the top of my head I think of instances where we dream of ways to stay young.  Ponce de Leon and the myth we learned about his search for the fountain of youth and Dorian Gray and his portrait hanging in the attic, after realizing his wish to remain young and let the portrait age is coming true.

That is similar to the premise of this book.  The plot is based on the idea that Rachel and Elazar are two young lovers living during the first temple time.  Rachel, the daughter of a scribe and Elazar, the son of a high priest.  They are star crossed lovers who have to hide to spend time together because they would not be permitted to marry.  When Rachel is married off Zakkai this relationship should end but of course it does not and Rachel finds herself pregnant.  The son is born as Zakkai's and then as a small boy becomes deathly ill.  To save his life Rachael and Elazar vow their lives for his.  They agree without understanding that they will never die.  They will continue to live forever while those around them age and pass on to the next life.

Thus begins the extremely long and fruitful lives of both Rachel and Elazar, who between other lives they are leading meet up again throughout the centuries.  They never stay together, but marry others and bear children in each new century, each leaving a long legacy of children, grandchildren and so on.  Each time they start life over again young, and learn new things as science and time move on, living through wars, disease, modern medicine and computers, right up until today with social media and bitcoin.

In a way it seems like starting to read a new book.  Each time you pick up a book, it is like a new relationship.  You open it full of the expectations. You read the first chapter with anticipation and hope that you will fall in love.  The plot draws you in and you are hooked.  It is exciting to come back to it each day, when you have finished your other work.  Time passes and you are in the middle and fully attached, then the end approaches and you are starting to read slower and dreading the experience coming to an end.  When it is over you are both at peace and fulfilled by the enjoyment of it and sad that it has come to an end.  Then you reach to your bookshelf or to-read pile and pick up the next book and the process begins again.  Would this be similar to living forever, while others around you do not?

Dara Horn has created her both an enticing novel that is enjoyable just on the P'shat level of reading a fascinating plot.  She also has given the reader an interesting D'rash to contemplate. Thinking about what it would be like to live through all the changes in history.  To be immortal when those around you are still mortal.
Was this review helpful?
This was absolutely what it said it was going to be; I loved this book. I'm fascinated by books about immortality, and this one managed to take on this fairly common plot line in a unique way, giving me a fair few moments of surprise.
Was this review helpful?
This book rattled around in my head for days after reading it. So beautifully haunting, especially to a parent.
Was this review helpful?
Dara Horn’s Eternal Life is a touching story of faith, loss and family. The story’s heroine, Rachel, made a deal with God in Roman-occupied Jerusalem to trade her death for the life of her first-born son. Now, 2000 years later, Rachel struggles to find continued meaning in her never ending life.

As the years pass, Rachel has had to say goodbye to generation after generation of families she has reared, unable to let anyone know about her ordeal. And the way each generation experiences life and faith challenges Rachel’s own understanding of what it means to be alive.  To complicate matters, Rachel’s first love chases her across time, trying to rekindle a tragic romance she is desperate to forget.

Eternal Life seamlessly connects stories across millennia, as we watch Rachel suffer from a melancholia that grows from having to watch everyone she loves die. Rachel desperately tries to find a way out her bargain, but as she already knows, life doesn’t always deliver what you want.
Was this review helpful?
Eternal Life by Dara Horn follows the story of Rachel, who was born 2,000 years ago in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. She and her true love, Elazar, sacrifice their deaths to save the live of their son. While the idea of immortality may be appealing, this book shows the toil of being unable to die. Eternal life comes at a high price when you must see those you love die.
Was this review helpful?
This is a humorous and thoughtful look at the meaning of life and the purpose of death. I couldn't put this down as i was curious as to how the author could make her thesis work---Rachael has been alive for 2000 years and she desperately wants to die.
Was this review helpful?
Rachel was a young girl growing up about 2000 Years ago in what is present day Israel.  She met a young man who was a member of the priesthood.  Elazar and Rachel fell in love.  But her parents prohibited a marriage between them and forbid any further contact between the lovers. In accordance with the custom at the time her parents arranged a wedding for her with Zakkar whom they considered a more serious and better match for their daughter. Two big problems presented themselves to Rachel. Number one she was pregnant with Elazar's baby and second she found Zakkar boring and rather dull.
     When the baby was born he turned out to be very sickly and was soon close to death. Rachel was advised to speak to Elazar's father who happened to be the high priest.  He told her that in order to save the baby she would have to take an oath for eternal life which would also be granted to the baby's father who of course was Elazar.
     Rachel took the oath: it worked and she and Elazar had to continue living long after that baby had passed away.  It was seemingly a great gift for both but they had to witness and live with generations of new spouses, many children and grandchildren eventually seeing them die natural deaths.  Ms. Horn very deftly describes the feelings of two people that have to witness on a periodic basis people they hold dear becoming sick and passing away.  Both the former lovers look for each other over time but never get together which should be the normal reaction to their shared plight. A very different novel neatly putting many shifts in time, different customs, and reactions to varying shifts in procedures.  
     Darla Horn gives us truly mesmerizing  book to enjoy.
Was this review helpful?
This was an interesting take on the story of Immortals. Nice story although the ending didn’t make as much sense. She wanted to die and then suddenly she changes her mind, although she’s been through thousands of faked deaths similar to this one. Because of that, the ending seemed very rushed. Is there going to be a sequel that explains more?
Was this review helpful?
What is a human life worth? For a mother like Rachel, the protagonist of Dara Horn’s Eternal Life, the life of her son is worth everything she can give. But, in her rush to save her son, Rachel neglects to read the fine print when she gives up her death so that her son will survive a terrible illness. Ever since that day two thousand years ago, Rachel has been wandering the earth raising family after family, wondering if it was really worth it.

The first hints that not all is right with Rachel come when she refers to her very many sons and daughters, more than a woman could ever have in one lifetime. Then there are all the languages she knows and occupations she’s held over the centuries. Above all else, there’s her deep fatigue and questions about what she’s really living for. For Rachel, death would be a chance to rest once and for all.

We meet Rachel as she’s coming to the realization that the time has come for her to do her disappearing act. As far as her children and grandchildren are aware, she’s in her eighties. She looks decades younger though, and the fact that she’s not about to shuffle off her mortal coil any time soon is about to become awkward. In the past, it was easier to start over somewhere else. Now it requires so much documentation to set up a life that it’s almost impossible to help. The only other person with Rachel’s predicament, Elazar, offers to help, but she still hasn’t forgiven him for the time Elazar got her first husband killed.

Eternal Life moves back and forth between the present and Rachel and Elazar’s first life in Jerusalem a few decades before the destruction of the Second Temple. Horn has a gift for bringing that time and place back to life, though that is partially due to Rachel’s vibrance as a character. I honestly wish this book had been longer, because not only does it only touch on Jewish history, but it also asks interesting questions about whether there should be limits to what parents do for their children. Rachel might make the same choice again, but is it worth creating and leaving family after family to save the life of one mortal child? Thankfully, we learn Rachel’s answer in the end…but you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out what it is because I’m not going to give it away here.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 23 January 2018.
Was this review helpful?
Rachel cannot die, and it takes her centuries to learn what is important to her.  Her experiences make us look at our own lives and live in the moment, appreciating who we are with and the things which truly matter. I especially found it interesting that she would see her former children in current children and be reminded of people she loved lifetimes ago in the current day.  It reminds me how closely connected we are to former & future generations and that whatever our differences may be we all share love of family.
Was this review helpful?
I have always been a great admirer of Dara Horn, and this book is without a doubt just as well-written as her previous titles. However, the premise proves a bit too difficult for her to pull off with complete success—a young Jewish woman and her lover receive the gift/curse of eternal life near the beginning of the Common Era and encounter each other again and again over the subsequent millennia. There are large themes here that are hard for the author to focus on because she has so much world-building to do, so many details to attend to. Not her best work.
Was this review helpful?
A unique and creative idea, I thought the topic was handled decently by the author.  Unfortunately, while I don't mind some religious elements in a novel, those involved in this book seemed a bit overwhelming.  I understand how faith is necessary to this story, but it was a bit off putting for me.  Overall, I was more curious in some of the other lives in the near past than the constant return to the 'far' past.  I would recommend this book, but with some hesitations.
Was this review helpful?
I have to admit that this book took me a little while to get into but once I did wow!!  A definite must read!!
Was this review helpful?
What a wonderful book. The characters are believeable and the plot is perfectly paced. The religious elements are interwoven in a way that’s respectful and subtle. I love stories about people with long life and this one delivered with a story that felt fresh and new.
Was this review helpful?
I am not sure where to start with this book, I loved the sound of it and couldn't wait to read it so much so that I bumped it up my reading list.It was a brilliant idea but I found it hard to get into, I didn't really like the main character and found the time jumps confusing although I shouldn't have done really.I feel so disappointed I so wanted to enjoy this book .I do think the idea was a cracking one and maybe it was just me I hope so, and really hope others will enjoy this more than I did.Thanks to the publishers and netgalley for an ARC.
Was this review helpful?
A woman living in modern times who has lived for thousands of years and cannot die tells her story. A compelling and entertaining premise, but the execution didn’t enthrall me. This one was a “did not finish” for me.
Was this review helpful?
Rachel and Elazar make a vow to god in the first century CE trading their deaths for the life of their son. So begins Rachel's very long journey to come to terms with the unique life she must live. Eternal Life explores what it means to really live, especially when there is no true end to your life. I loved the beginning of this book, but felt like the story got lost in itself toward the end. I may not have loved all of this book, but I really like that it made me think.
Was this review helpful?
This latest book by Dara Horn flows from the Priestly era in Jerusalem to modern day America.  Its constants are Rachel, daughter of Azaria, a scribe, and Elazar, son of Hanania the high priest.   Historically there was a high priest named Ananias son of Nedebeus who officiated from CE 47 to 52 and who had a son named Eliezer, one of the leaders of the Great Revolt of Judea.  That puts them at the right time historically.  I believe that Rachel is a wholly fictitious character. 

Rachel is a woman who has outlived scores of children, grandchildren and husbands. Because the first Rachel had no brothers and was the youngest child born to Azaria, she was entrusted with being his messenger. a “one-girl postal service” who delivered messages and scrolls to his customers. Thus, she had the luxury not given to girls at that time of going unaccompanied where she wanted, including the Temple.  These scrolls were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin and as Azaria wrote them he chanted them aloud.   Unbeknownst to her father, Rachel picked up these languages as well as reading and writing as she sat by his side.   It was in the outer court of the Temple  that she met Elazar who asked her about a correction that had been made in a scroll.  She had to tell him that she was the one who had removed a line in the story of the binding of Isaac.  Her father had been inventive and changed the story.  So began a relationship between the two that resulted in the birth of Yochanan. Her love for Elazar made her understand why she would not want to die.  But, by the time of the birth, she had been married to Zakkai, an apprentice to her father.

Later when Yochanan grew sickly and about to die, Rachel sought out the high priest, Hanania, father of Elazar.  He gave her a choice to either let her son die or to live forever, which, being a young mother she could not contemplate.  Rachel made the vow that both she and Elazar would live forever in exchange for the life of Yochanan.

Most of the book happens in the present as Rachel struggles with living with her modern family.   Her present son, Rocky, reminds her of Yochanan who is surely based on his namesake, Yochanan ben Zakkai, student of Hillel.  It was he who predicted the fall of the Temple and its rituals and had himself smuggled out of Jerusalem to build a school in Yavneh.  Her frustrating grown son Rocky lives with Rachel while he mines currency on the Internet.  She has always left her families before they turn as old as this one has.  But Hannah, Rocky’s daughter who is a medical researcher, is working on how to stop the aging process.

 On and off through the over two thousand years she has seen Elazar.  Through the centuries Elazar has continued to love Rachel but she has been angry at Elazar from the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of the Second Temple.

Dara Horn’s ability to weave history with pervasive and familiar emotions through an arc or centuries is remarkable.
Was this review helpful?
Eternal Life takes the reader on Rachel Azaria's two thousand year journey, a journey she embarks upon when she gives up her death in order to save her first son. This book explores questions that will provoke dynamic conversations among readers, such as would someone blessed (or cursed) with immortality make the same decisions over again when starting over again in a new life with a new family in a new country? Joining Rachel throughout her journey is the father of her first son, the only person who understands what she has experienced, and who refuses to give up on the notion that they are meant to be together despite Rachel's fears and objections. The reader witnesses the Romans' ruination of ancient Jerusalem through Rachel's eyes, as well as her struggle to come to grips with 21st century values and technology. This is a thoughtful book about what it means to live forever and to find purpose.
Was this review helpful?
Eternal Life by Dara Horn is one of those books that made me happy I read it. It follows a girl named Rachel through her very, very long life. 2000 years ago, Rachel made a vow to save her child's life in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a vow that saved her child but stopped her from dying. Now Rachel has lived 2000 years, buried thousands of children and husbands and grandchildren, and is desperate for it to all finally be over.

I was totally swept up in this book. I could barely put it down. As someone who grew up learning about Jewish history, the descriptions of Rachel's life 2000 years were utterly fascinating. Horn's writing is so beautiful but also easy to digest. She doesn't try to outdo herself with the language. It just flows naturally. This is the first Dara Horn book I've read and I can't wait to read more.

The book jumps around in time, mostly between two major events in Rachel's life. You also get really interesting little snippets of other eras in Rachel's life. I kind of wished the book had been longer so Horn could have delved more into these other eras, but I understand Horn's focus. My only one complaint was that I had a hard time understanding the character of Elazar, but that didn't alter my enjoyment of the book at all.

Recommended for everyone!
Was this review helpful?