This is perhaps one of the most intriguing novels I have read in a long time. It is the coming of age story of a young, you guessed it, Jerusalem maiden. She's one of the daughters in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family who approaches her bat mitzvah in a most unorthodox way, by testing her faith's limits and questioning God.
Tragedy seems to follow this young woman and her family, partially due to the repercussions of an expensive war in which the Ottoman Empire is involved during the early 1900s, but also due to the unwillingness of Esther's community to alter their way of life and find new ways to support themselves. The hardship she faces continues to confound her. In Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth, Esther questions why they, the Chosen Ones who will save the future of Jewish people worldwide, must suffer so terribly. Several times as I was reading, I had flashbacks of another novel, Angela's Ashes, especially when it seems that bad luck is a neverending stream flowing through Esther Kaminsky's life. The reality of growing up in extreme poverty is harsh, affecting every aspect of living. At the crux of the novel, however, stands the question, to whom must Esther be true, to God, or to herself?
The novel follows Esther from childhood through womanhood and shows how one person, no matter how inconsequential their actions may seem, can create a great impact on what is to come.
The author has written this book in such an engaging manner that it is difficult to put down. Scattered throughout are Yiddish expressions. Some are translated, others are not. Even so, many of the decrees that the community are expected to follow are explained, making it comprehensible to readers of virtually any religious or non-religious background.
on November 3, 2011
This book is dedicated to the author's grandmother, "whose genius went untapped." In the author's promotional video, she speculates that if born in a different time or place, the real Esther would have lived an unconventional, bohemian creative life. This story begins almost in what feels like the stone age -- bare unwashed feet, superstitious imprecations, women as chattel -- and ends in the modern world of 1968.
I also have a Grandmother of the same generation, about whom we always said "What if?", who chafed at the constricts that kept women in their place a hundred years ago, but who likewise embraced the traditions that gave meaning and structure to family life.
What interested me about Esther is how she, to an extent, embraces her chains. She loves the traditions of the Haredi, the prayers, the meals, keeping house, feeding the family. The reader sees she's actually lucky in the match her father made for her - but she doesn't see it that way, even though it was a peaceful marriage by the standards of the time. I was surprised at how sensible some of the rules were -- how many Catholic wives would have loved to be barred their husbands for a week a month! And the mikvah cleansing bath sounds almost like a spa.
I appreciated that this book turned out not to have the stupid wish fulfillment ending I find in so many women's novels. Nor was it a complete downer. It was realistic and resisted the current literary trend of forcing a politically correct sensibility on a grim time. Without anything heavy handed, the creation of the State of Israel is woven into the story, without being the story.
For me, this book was moving on many levels.
on June 1, 2011
Esther Kaminsky, a young Jerusalem-born woman, can only dream of the life she wants - so far away from her real one, the life of an Orthodox Jewess, ordained by Hashem to be full of suffering and drudgery in order to help "hasten the Messiah's arrival." Little do her somewhat-sympathetic father and hard-hearted mother know, that when Esther leaves her school every day she's off to her art teacher's to study the only craft she loves - painting. How can Esther's two mutually exclusive worlds ever marry? Will they ever, before it is her time to marry, and forever extinguish her own dreams of painting and taking control of her life?
The sense of urgency in the story, leading up to Esther's climactic decision, is breathless as she takes us through her daily life in the beautiful but poverty-stricken city of Jerusalem. Her daily tasks and all her thoughts are interrupted by her need for beauty and artistry, her life saturated with the desire to capture the world and make it her own. Esther's "impertinent" character and her reactions are believable through all the twists and turns she takes, upending some of her super-orthodox beliefs, only to reclaim them later on. Her confusion and desperation amidst so many trials and betrayals are immediate and heartrending to read about - I was completely absorbed in this story, which happens to be based on author Carner's great-grandmother but veers in a what-if direction that is also reflected on by the story-Esther. It slowed down a little too much after the Big Event I won't tell you about, but at the core this novel is a great exploration of faith in the face of reality and changing times and places. This was the theme that drew me to click on the "Request" link for the book in the first place, and I also got some great character development and language as rich and expressive as any of Esther's beautiful paintings.
on June 2, 2011
I have been blessed to read JERUSALEM MAIDEN by Talia Carner and I simply cannot contain my enthusiasm. I must review it, so you'll order your own copy now then spread the word how great this book is!
Esther, the JERUSALEM MAIDEN, captures her readers with her innocence and brutal honesty. She ushers us right into her very being to experience life in early 1900 Jerusalem. We grow with her, empathize with her doubt and devotion, and urge her to make right decisions as we swiftly turn pages to see what comes next. It seems not one thought is left untold. As a Christian, a follower of Yeshua, I ached for her to know the Father's unconditional love and cursed the traditions of men that caused her so much pain and suffering.
I couldn't put JERUSALEM MAIDEN down and highly recommend it. While a few parts might offend a "church lady", I found Esther's story true to life and love. I thoroughly enjoyed every page even though many brought me to tears as I shared Esther's pain - I also laughed aloud with her. Ms. Carner paints lovely pictures with her words and woos me to find everything else she has written. This is an amazing, well written story that I do not hesitate to recommend or award a five star review!
on July 2, 2011
I enjoyed Talia Carner's "Jerusalem Maiden" a lot. I love novels which feature different eras, religions, and countries to which I'm familiar with. "Jerusalem Maiden" fit the bill on all accounts--as it tells the story of Esther Kaminsky, growing up in Jerusalem's old city (and later Jaffa) at the turn of the 20th century. Esther's family are Haredis, ultra-Orthodox, and I was surprised to see some of the aspects of Islam reflected in their beliefs--such as a woman's testimony is worth half a man's. Esther has been born into a culture, family, and time where she is expected to be betrothed at 12--and not much else. It's unlikely she'll have any say in her marriage or even see her groom before the wedding. Yet, Esther has been graced with artistic talent--which has been recognized by her French teacher, Mademoiselle Thibaux. Esther struggles with her love of art, and how this love conflicts with her faith--especially the commandment to make no graven images. Without giving too much away, the story focuses on that struggle and her subsequent marriage.
I loved the ending, with Esther's granddaughter. However, I felt that she mentioned so many interesting details of Esther's life after returning to Israel, that I wanted to know more. So, basically I'm deducting 1/2 a star for that (seems like the ending was rushed) and 1/2 a star for the stereotypes.
The one thing I did not like is that the author seemed to resort to stereotypes--both of Arabs and gays. While Esther herself may have held these prejudices, as she was also fearful of the Christians (Arab or Western) as well--I think the author could have had one or two atypical Arab characters, because that would have reflected the reality of the region at the time. Anti-semitism in Muslim circles generally reared its head after the creation of Israel. Prior to that, Muslim countries often protected Jews from persecution--both the Ottoman Empire and the Moors in Spain did so for centuries.
Similarly, Esther's cousin Asher is described as a musical prodigy and a bit slight--so of course, he ends up being gay. A little too predictable, IMHO. Artistic, thin men are not always gay. Similarly, gays are not always slight and effeminate.
Also, Ms. Carner implies that there were more Jews than Arabs in Palestine at the turn of the century. That's not the truth. Jews made up roughly 12% of the population of what we now call Israel at the time, according to "The Jewish Encyclopedia". They did make up a majority of the population of Jerusalem, roughly 68%, but Palestine itself? No, they were a minority. It was the various aliyahs, starting at the end of the 19th century, which gradually increased the population of Jews in Israel up to 33% of the population at time of partition. Jews were given 56% of the land, even though they only legally owned 7% of the land at the time. Palestine had been a predominantly Arab and Muslim country since the end of the 7th century--so, for over 1250 years.
Can a woman's desire to become an artist in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture of 1911 come true?
Having a voice or form of self-expression is a constant struggle for feisty Esther living in the midst of a repressive society. The Haredi community of Jerusalem Maiden allows no independence for women apart from their fathers or husbands. Women are expected to bear children, cook, do laundry and be obedient. Esther anticipates a life of marrying young and having many sons to hasten the arrival of the Messiah. When she discovers her artistic talent, she feels duty bound to suppress it in order to follow God's path as dictated by her religious leaders.
Award-winning author, Talia Carter, formerly the publisher of Savvy Woman Magazine, is the author of Puppet Child and China Doll. Ms. Carter is a voice for social issues such as domestic violence and infanticide in China.
The book is an excellent mirror of Orthodox Jewish culture in the early twentieth century. Descriptive images abound: fried Shabbat challah sprinkled with sugar, squawking chickens hanging by their feet in the market, hair coated with olive oil then draped over the ears in a braid.
Esther struggles throughout the book with her desire to be an artist and the demands placed upon women by the religious community. Her teacher claims art sets a person free. "But that was reserved only for those free to paint in the first place. Why was God making His gift so hard to carry out?" Esther's guilt pangs increase when she falls in love outside with someone outside of her religious community.
Esther's doubts and devotion are a constant struggle for her. Although Jerusalem Maiden assumes a reader's understanding of ultra-Orthodox Jewish beliefs, its message is universal for those repressed by society, religious order, or self-induced guilt.
LibraryThing and Harper Collins supplied the advance review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly that of the reviewer.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
Talia Carner's " Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel is a lovely and thought provoking novel. It is truly a coming of age story in which the author takes the reader back to the final days of the Ottoman Empire in Jerusalem, around the turn of the 20th century in which setting, the protagonist, Esther Kaminsky, is born into an ultra-religious Jewish family. As she grows up, she finds out she has a gift for drawing and painting, but her family totally disapproves. She becomes a passionate and opiniated young woman who wants answers to all her questions and..who wants to pursue her passion for art.
The story actually begins in 1911 and ends with the epilogue in 1968. Life in Jerusalem for the Orthodox Jewish community in 1911 was harsh and difficult with much poverty and crowded conditions. As Esther's story unfolds, so does her artistic talent and all she wants to do is paint. Her family does not understand her passion or her talent, neither do they want to. Her father, in order to avoid dealing with her, arranges a marriage and actually deceives her as to who she is marrying; she does not discover this until after she lifts her wedding veil. In all of Esther's struggles, the author shows how she maintains her faith in God, but chafes against the many external decrees and regulations of the Orthodox Jewish community.
It is amazing how the author was able to describe the complexity of the choices Esther had to make by giving the reader vivid, detailed word pictures of life with all its rituals in Jerusalem as well as life in Paris around that time. After her marriage and her move to Tel Aviv, the next part of Esther's story takes place in Paris when her husband has to attend a conference and Esther wants to follow him there. Unbeknown to her, he was called to Austria just when she arrives in Paris, so she decides to stay, a decision which is life changing. The enormous influence of art in that city as well as the political and economic issues also influence Esther and she finds herself in the middle of it all. She has to make some agonizing choices as she left her children in Tel Aviv and a final heart wrenching event helps her to make the most difficult decision of her life.
This novel is a wonderful exploration of faith in the face of a changing world. I found myself completely drawn in by Esther's search to find herself in spite of the expectations of the people she loves most. What comes through loud and clear is the question: " Will she dare to follow her passion or should she follow her obligation to her family and community?" Reading this, it makes you question your own beliefs! I loved her continual search to be true to herself, which is really the central theme of the story.
This is not some tale of romance, but a compelling novel which examines the oppression of creative thinking in the early 1900's and then compares it with the non-conforming atmosphere found in the Paris art world 10 years later. Yes, the vehicle is a wonderful love story, but it is so much more. The epilogue is quite a surprise and very touching with the revealing of a hidden secret.
I think this novel is very relevant for this day and age, as we, too, live in changing times and many women still struggle with similar issues in spite of the freedoms we now have in the 21st century. This novel would be a marvelous choice for a book club with much opportunity for discussion. I highly recommend it with five stars!
on June 7, 2011
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 Maiden is 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.
on April 6, 2013
I really expected to like this book because it's about subjects and people and times that I am very interested in and familiar with. I didn't for basically two reasons:
1) I found the main character supremely annoying. She's a very religious woman so everything in her world is God-ordained, I get that. But she seemed to use NO LOGIC WHATSOEVER as she blindly ascribes God's hand to the events that occurred in her life. This good thing means that God wants her to move in this direction. This bad thing means that God is punishing her for moving in this direction. She never once stops to consider how BOTH THESE THINGS could possibly be true at the same time. See what I mean? All my capital letters? ANNOYING!!
2) I did not like the writer's style. Too much of the prose is internal conversation delivered in the form of questions. For example: How could he mean that? How could she know that? What could this mean? On and on and on. I find this style of writing boring and, at some point, grating.
on May 20, 2015
Good novel, perhaps even great, ...with a very poor ending. And I have to say that I've never read another novel where the ending was so bad as to ruin the whole story (okay, ...perhaps " ...almost ruin the whole story."). Perhaps a 3.5 rating if there was such a thing.
As much as I enjoyed reading the first part, as I continued to read the remaining 10 percent or so, I kept telling myself to stop reading, to just enjoy what I'd read and let it go at that. I didn't, and that last part just ruined it all for me. Damn!
I would also comment that near the end, the sex scenes were excessive for the style and type story, and had almost no place in the narrative. Thankfully there were few such scenes. Implied sex would have been more than enough.
The epilogue was good and fit the main storyline quite well. I just wish the author had used it in place of the last 10 percent or so of the story.