Browse Reading Guides

Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageEternal Life: A Novel

    Dara Horn

    A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2018, Booklist Editors’ Choice Book (January 2019), and Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018

    What would it really mean to live forever?

Discussion Questions

  1. Rachel lives through many experiences and circumstances throughout the millennia. What are the parameters of her life? What rules does she use to govern her eternal existence?
  2. Elazar and Rachel confront one another about the separate lives they lead. When Rachel makes a comment about the wives Elazar has had, he defends himself, saying, “Don’t talk that way. It was real for them” (p. 12). Do you think Rachel and Elazar’s eternal lives make living somehow less “real,” or more separated from reality?
  3. Is Rachel what you expect from someone who has lived for more than two thousand years? Why or why not?
  4. What problems does the twenty-first century pose for Rachel? How is her predicament different from past centuries?
  5. Chapter 2 opens with a rumination on Rachel’s regret (p. 6). What are her regrets in life? Does Elazar have the same regrets as Rachel?
  6. The temple exerts a strong influence on Rachel as a young woman. How do religion and notions of faith change throughout her life?
  7. Zakkai questions a translation of the Torah, believing that the word “urim” means “cursed,” not “light” (p. 52). What is the significance of this translation, and how does it tie in with Rachel’s predicament?
  8. Eternal Life moves back and forth through time from the modern day to Rachel’s life growing up in Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. In between, her life takes many forms and iterations. Do you think she changes fundamentally from who she was as a girl? In what ways? In what ways does she stay the same?
  9. When the high priest Hanania tells Rachel she can save Yochanan if she makes the eternal vow, he recommends that she avoid doing so. “You are young.… You will have more children,” he says (p. 70). Do you find the adage “time heals all wounds” to be applicable to Rachel’s life? How or how not?
  10. Eternal Life has certain parallels with the legend of Faust, who makes a bargain with the Devil’s accomplice Mephistopheles. In exchange for knowledge and magic power, Faust promises his eternal soul to the Devil. In what ways do Rachel and Elazar’s lives parallel the legend of Faust? How does their story cast it in a different light, or subvert it?
  11. Rachel confronts Yochanan about allowing the temple to burn, and he explains that he made a choice to save the Torah scholars instead (pp. 205–6). What are the implications of his choice? What does it say about the things that remain eternal?
  12. Elazar is hesitant when Rachel tells him Hannah might be able to put an end to Rachel’s eternal life. “High priests used to have this power,” Rachel tells him. “Did it ever occur to you that Hannah and people like her are the new high priests?” (pp. 214–15) What does Rachel mean by this? What does it imply about the modern roles of science and religion? Do you agree with Rachel’s perspective?
  13. What does the article on Hannah’s career imply about her understanding of mortality? Do you agree with her sentiments?
  14. By the novel’s end, Rachel has started yet another new family. What do you imagine for Rachel’s future?

About Dara Horn

Dara Horn is a two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction and one of Granta’s Best American Novelists. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.

Books by Dara Horn

  1. Book CoverAll Other Nights: A Novel

    “Slam-bang... superb... masterful... gripping... marvelous.”—Washington PostMore

  2. Book CoverEternal Life: A Novel

    A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2018, Booklist Editors’ Choice Book (January 2019), and Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018

    What would it really mean to live forever?More

  3. Book CoverA Guide for the Perplexed: A Novel

    The incomparable Dara Horn returns with a spellbinding novel of how technology changes memory and how memory shapes the soul.More