The Weight Of Ink (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Rachel Kadish tells the story of Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi in London in the 1600s right before the plague. At the same time we learn about Helen Watt, a close-to-retiring British historian working on translations of some 17th century documents signed by scribe “Aleph.” Even though these women lived in different centuries, both were strong and determined to pursue their interests, fought to be heard, and chose a life to satisfy their minds with sacrifice of the heart.
Ester is a product of the Portuguese Inquisition, and although displaced with little family, she feels at home with her job as a scribe for the rabbi, where her love of learning is nourished. She turns down marriage offers as she prefers to work for the rabbi in order to continue her scholarly pursuits. She has an open mind and longs to converse with philosophers and educated men, and although it is not acceptable for women to engage in these types of discussions, she creates unorthodox opportunities to be heard.
Helen has a love of Jewish history, and as she and her American graduate student assistant Aaron Levy investigate the many pages of letters written to and from the London-based rabbi to determine the identity of the scribe, it is a race against time as Helen’s physical health is failing, she is approaching retirement, and another team of historians is working on the same project.
We also learn about Aaron Levy, the Jewish assistant, who is interested in a relationship with a girl who is living in Israel on a Kibbutz and is pushing him away. And then there are Ian and Brigette Easton, the couple who live in the 17th century house where the documents were found. This is a complex story, a mystery and rich with history and well-developed characters.
Author Rachel Kadish provides extensive depth: Jewish theology and philosophy, interfaith relationships and lost love, 17th century history, the Portuguese inquisition, the plague and so much more. The Weight of Ink is powerful, intricate and the well-deserved winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Although this is not an easy book, if you love historical fiction and Jewish history, you will be rewarded with the beauty of memorable storytelling.
The Weight of Ink is now available to purchase.
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