I read only one book this month: The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. It’s a very long book—almost 600 pages—but it really was a very good one. I’m glad I stuck with it. (It’s not cumbersome. I’ve just had a rough July and have not had much focus. In any other month, I would have devoured this book in a matter of days.)
Like Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book (which I highly recommend), Kadish’s novel tells parallel stories, one historical and one modern. The historical story follows Ester Velasquez, a young Portuguese woman who serves a rabbi living in 17th century London. The rabbi is a charity case, blinded in the Inquisition and sent to London to “educate” the Jewish population there. Ester and her brother are orphans he’s taken into his care. The modern story follows two historians—a British historian facing retirement and an American graduate student—as they uncover the details of Ester’s life. Helen, the Brit, is closed off and abrasive. Aaron, the American, is lost but riding on his charm. (Confession: I did not find him very charming.)
Of the two story lines, I found Ester’s far more intriguing and enjoyable. I disliked being pulled out of her story for the next segment of Helen and Aaron’s story. Ester is a fuller, far more layered character than her modern counterparts, who came off as self-pitying more than anything else. Ester, by contrast, brimmed with ambition and emotion and obstinacy. Whereas Helen and Aaron seemed defined by their selfishness, Ester—while also being selfish in some ways—also showed a gift for selflessness in her devotion to the rabbi and her commitment to her friend, Mary.
But please don’t let my dislike of Helen and Aaron dissuade you from reading this book. It’s worth it to get to know Ester.