Dara Horn, a 26-year old Harvard doctoral student in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, has won the first UAHC Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction for her debut novel, In the Image (W. W. Norton). Horn will receive the $5,000 award at the UAHC Biennial Convention in Minneapolis November 7.
The finalists were: Daniel Stolar, The Middle of the Night (Picador); Michael Redhill, Martin Sloane (Back Bay [Little Brown]); and Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated (Houghton Mifflin).
The Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction was created by Dr. Alexander Mauskop, a Larchmont, New York neurologist, to encourage young Jewish fiction writers. To be eligible, writers must be under the age of 45 and have published a novel or short story collection on a Jewish theme.
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, will present the award to Horn at the Union's convention, attended by 4,500 synagogue lay leaders, rabbis, cantors, angd educators from across North America. Horn will also be featured in the Winter edition of Reform Judaism, the world's largest Jewish magazine with a circulation of more than 310,000 households.
Elie Wiesel served as honorary chair of the prize committee. The judges were Sanford Pinsker, Shadek Professor of Humanities at Franklin and Marshall College; Janet Burstein, Drew University professor and author of a forthcoming book on contemporary American Jewish fiction; and Melvin Jules Bukiet, acclaimed Jewish fiction writer and literary reviewer.
"Horn's work was the best of many wonderful submissions," Pinsker said. "In the Image brilliantly combines a renewed interest in Jewish ideas with familiar requirements of good fiction: compelling themes, absorbing plots, characters we care about, and outstanding writing. A tale of two families, Horn's novel is about searches and rescues, about forays into the past and glimpses of the future."
Bonny Fetterman, literary editor of Reform Judaism magazine, says Horn brings to her writing a rich Jewish experience that seems deeper and broader than one would expect from a young novelist. Raised in the affluent suburb of Short Hills, New Jersey, Horn intentionally set her novel there to contrast with the Short Hills of forty years ago, the setting for Philip Roth's infamous story "Goodbye Columbus."
In the Image was featured as a significant Jewish book in the fall issue of Reform Judaism magazine. A study guide to the book, which is used in Reform synagogues throughout North America, can be found on the Web.
In the Image masterfully weaves together several stories. One is a coming-of-age saga about the protagonist, Leora. A second employs the extensive travel slides of Bill Landsmann (grandfather of Leora's tragically deceased best friend) to deftly incorporate elements of historical fiction. A third explores the sociology of the American Jewish experience, as the main characters struggle to balance Judaism's spiritual and religious dimensions in their lives.
Asked about the significance of her book by editor Aron Hirt-Manheimer in a Reform Judaism magazine interview, Horn said, "I was always bothered by that idea in Genesis that man is made in the image of God, because one big thing was left out - we're not eternal. You could say the soul's eternal, but that's hardly much comfort. Then I thought, maybe that remnant of eternity within us is the impulse to record and save things, to keep journals and diaries, to take notes and pictures. Even though we can't live forever, we want to preserve the memories of what's meaningful in our lives, to keep them as long as we can. It's the closest we can come to being in the image."
In the Image also received the 2003 National Jewish Book Award and the Edward Lewis Wallant Book Award.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. UAHC services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.