Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner– 454 pages
In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, a young Orthodox Jewish woman in the holy city of Jerusalem is expected to marry and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah’s arrival. While the feisty Esther Kaminsky understands her obligations, her artistic talent inspires her to secretly explore worlds outside her religion to dream of studying in Paris and to believe that God has a special destiny for her. When tragedy strikes her family, Esther views it as a warning from an angry God and suppresses her desires in order to become an obedient “Jerusalem maiden.” But when a surprising opportunity forces itself on to her preordained path, Esther finds her beliefs clashing dangerously with the passions she has staved off her entire life forcing her to confront the most difficult and damning question of all. To whom must she be true, God or herself?
My Review: 4 stars
Jerusalem Maiden is an incredible story about a young strong-willed girl living in Jerusalem while under the Ottoman rule. This book has been my list for several years and at my mom’s urging I finally picked it up. It was actually the right time to read it as I just returned from Israel so the pages leapt to life.
Esther is a character to believe in, as she is loyal to a fault, a good daughter, sister and friend. She is struggling with what is dictated to be her future: an arranged marriage in which she becomes the property of her husband and a vessel to reproduce. These were the ways of the ultra-orthodox Haredi in which she lives. The Haredi were the chosen of the Chosen People.
We are often inside Esther’s mind where the reader can feel her internal struggle with what she can do and can’t do. She’s a naturally gifted artist and while in French lessons, her teacher begins to secretly nurture her talent. In this sect of Judaism, any type of artistic expression is forbidden and this is the beginning of Esther’s struggle with G-d’s will and her own.
I think this book opens the reader’s eyes to many aspects of Judaism, to strong-minded women, forbidden love, motherhood, self-realization, tradition and passion. It’s interesting how currently Jews living secularly are encouraged to question what we’re told, what we read and the meanings of the Torah. Nothing is prescribed as it is written without thought and meaningful discussion.
The details of time period, culture and setting were beautifully portrayed in both Jerusalem and Paris. The author set a painting in my mind as I read along. I also got a kick out of the midwife using the “cupping” method to cure Esther’s mom. The world was shocked at this year’s summer Olympics when Michael Phelps showed up with cupping bruises all over his torso. Yet here they were using it in the early 1900s in Jerusalem.
My one minor criticism to the book is that I wish the first half of the book were a little shorter in length. I was ready for something to happen sooner than it did. I’m glad I read this book and look forward to checking out this author’s other novels.
Quotes I liked:
Were mothers destined to give everything they have to create new lives until there was nothing left?”
-“Jewishness is not a coat you wear when it’s cold and hand on a nail when it’s hot.”
– “But the rabbis? They still debate how kosher is an egg laid on Shabbat.”
-“If I am not for myself, then who is for me?” – From the book of Avot