It’s rare to find a book where you want to find out how the story ends, but you hold yourself back because you don’t want to leave the world the author has created. Jerusalem Maidenis just such story.
When the novel begins, Esther Kaminsky is living Jerusalem during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. She is one of several children, and she is about to come of age and be married off so that she have children and usher in The Messiah. Esther has a longing to become an artist, but she is torn between her faith and her duty to her people. This is a time when Jews still viewed Israel as the right of The Messiah and far into the future. Zionists were viewed with disdain by the Religious Establishment, so a woman who would rather practice art rather than have a family was taboo.
When her mother becomes sick from a blood infection, Esther makes a promise that she will give up her gift. She keeps this promise even after her mother dies, thinking God is punishing her. When she is given the chance to express herself again many years later, she does not want to admit to herself, or to others, that she is an artist.
This book’s central theme is about not denying who you truly are. In many ways, it recalls the works of Sholom Aleichem, whose work is best known through the stage adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. The characters are simple people that the reader cannot help but love. The traditions, even when they seem outdated in the 21st century, make us long for a simpler time.
The only issues I found in the book is that it does not come with a glossary for all of the Hebrew and Yiddish words that the author uses. Most times, the reader can figure it out based on context, or it has already be said, but in 400 pages, a glossary would be nice. Aside from that, this is a book that when finished, you will feel like you’ve lost your best friend and you’ll immediately want to start it all over again.
(note: this review originally appeared on the Best Damn Creative Writing Blog)
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