This new novel by Talia Carner begins in Jerusalem in 1911. Esther Kaminsky is being raised in the Haredi community of Me’a She’arim. She is expected to marry young, give birth to many children, be a dutiful wife and thereby hasten the coming of the Messiah. Quite a responsibility!
While Esther loves her family, she also is a gifted artist. Any profession is forbidden to her by her community and family. Art, in particular, is fraught with danger due to the Commandment not to make graven images. Esther’s French teacher, Mlle. Thibaux has recognized her talent and is secretly giving her art lessons. When tragedy strikes Esther’s family, she feels it her fault because she has been disobedient.
And that is the puzzle of Esther’s life. Should she deny her talent and bow to the wishes of her community? Or can she free herself and recognize that God has given her a special talent and the sin would be wasting the gift? There is no one in Esther’s life who can provide her with guidance, and so she struggles.
Jerusalem Maiden is a lovely book. It is well-researched, and Carner understands what life is like for the Haredi community. They are truly learned in the Torah and the Talmud, yet are otherwise beset by poverty and ignorance. They subsist on the charity of the Jews of the world, yet condemn them for their lack of righteousness and adherence to God’s word (as the Haredi interpret it!). This dichotomy continues today.
I highly recommend Jerusalem Maiden. Many thanks again to the LibraryThing EarlyReviewer program for sending me this book.
To be published May 2011-Harper
Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel