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The Gilded Chamber : A Novel of Queen Esther Paperback – Bargain Price, July 26, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What The Red Tent did for Dinah, The Gilded Chamber, a first novel by Rebecca Kohn, might do for Esther, the woman who wielded power over a King. The story follows the Book of Esther very closely: Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.

After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. sther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom. King Xerxes, a bit of a buffoon both in the Bible and in Kohn's book, is languishing under the effects of idleness and too much wine. He gives Haman his signet ring; Haman drafts the edict which will result in the death of the Jews and seals it with the King's ring. Now, Esther must save her people.

The portent of this book is found not in the story alone, but in the meticulous research that Kohn has done into the time: Palace life, social customs, history, sexual practices, the place of women, war and politics. Descriptions of the care given to Esther before she meets the King are detailed: her trips to the hairdressers, her hennaed hands, the pungent oils rubbed all over her body, the gold-trimmed clothing she wears. She describes her dinner with a eunuch: "Golden cups in the shape of tulip blossoms were filled with sweet spiced wine from Hodu, and shining silver platters were piled high with meat stews and succulent birds I could not identify. A plate of sugared almonds and pistachios ... and a sweet of sesame, dates and honey..." She is willing to sacrifice all creature comforts to save her people; her success is celebrated to this day in the Jewish feast of Purim. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this measured, eloquent retelling of Jewish heroine Esther's rise from orphanhood to queen of the Persian empire, Kohn brings psychological nuance and stately elegance to the ancient biblical tale that is the basis for the Jewish holiday of Purim. Narrating in the first person, Esther (born Hadassah) tells how she is forcibly taken from her home to the royal harem of King Xerxes in Babylon. Her uncle Mordechai, a high-ranking treasury official in the king's service, warns her, "Do not reveal your people or your kindred.... Let yourself be known only as Esther, foster daughter of Marduka the Babylonian." The novel is by and large faithful to the biblical account and often quotes from it verbatim. Yet Kohn deftly fills the gaps and resolves the ambiguities in the Book of Esther with creative storytelling and historical research. As Esther recognizes her strengths and responsibilities and learns the ways of the palace, so do we; the oppressive closeness of the harem ("the lingering odors of perfume, food, and lamp oil"), the pervasive abuse, the fragile alliances and deadly schemes all come to life. Kohn's Esther has a will of steel and knows how to manipulate lusty, impetuous Xerxes, but she longs for a simpler life. Her sacrifices are finally rewarded when the king's trusted courtier Haman issues a decree ordering the slaughter of the Jews, and Esther is in a position to be able to save her people. Though the novel's pace slows at times, Kohn paints a convincing, complex picture of Esther, and her descriptions of the palace and its secrets will hold readers spellbound.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143035339
  • ASIN: B000ECXDVM
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,693,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was ambivalent about rating and reviewing Rebecca Kohn's "The Gilded Chamber." It really had very little impact on me and, frankly, it left me flat - which surprised me. The story of Queen Esther is one of the most exciting parts of the Old Testament/Tanakh. The journey of the orphaned Jewish girl chosen in a nationwide beauty contest to become the wife of Xerxes I, and Queen of Persia, who ultimately saves her people from annihilation, is extraordinary. It emphasizes the miracle of Jewish survival over the millennia and is rich in religious significance. I found this novel somewhat flawed and not powerful enough to do justice to this great story. However, Ms. Kohn's narrative, although it deviates from the original story, is fluid and she does entertain and inform. For these reasons I believe the book is worth reading
Many have compared "The Gilded Chamber" to Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent." The only similarities I find are that both books deal with important women from the Old Testament. Ms. Diamant's novel of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, is powerful, gritty, earthy, tragic and extremely original. There is little written in the Bible about Dinah, so much of the novel is based on the author's creativity and imagination. Rebecca Kohn's novel of Queen Esther, is a somewhat literal retelling of The Book Of Esther, although the role of Mordechai is much less significant here. Oddly, Mordechai is Esther's unrequited love interest, rather than her uncle. I don't understand the role change, as it really doesn't enhance the story. Why does Esther continue to have romantic feelings about the seemingly asexual Mordechai - especially when he does not reciprocate her feelings?
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Format: Hardcover
For those of us expecting a novel like Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, this book is a big disappointment. The Red Tent is about women's relationships with each other, and tells of -albeit fictional- background that may help our understanding of Biblical events. This book is written by and about one person, Esther. Esther is clearly the innocent heroine, the perfect victim who rises to every occasion as she is prepared for one task, to sexually please King Xerxes (known to many of us as King Ahasueros).
This is a romance novel! That's the only explanation and the only possible category for it. Pity, because it appears that the author did a good amount of research into the history and lifestyles of the harem and royalty. But it's a romance novel, with the girl and the two men, one the beloved and one the powerful. It's an overdone theme, and it's not worthy of the story of Esther.
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Format: Hardcover
First a disclaimer: Ms Kohn is a neighbor and a friend--so some partiality is likely unavoidable in this review. That said, it was a considerable relief to open the pages of the book and find that no partisanship would be required to sing its praises. I read the first hundred pages in one gulp and was captivated. The story of Esther is one we know so well that we may cease to consider what it really means. Its characters are become so iconic we may forget they were human beings. Ms Kohn makes the story fresh and exciting, not least by expanding upon the character of Esther so that her actions are those of an engaging woman whose motivations we understand and whose courage we respect. Granting us a new look at the old tale, Ms Kohn makes us consider its lessons anew and they are as timely today as they were thousands of years ago.
The Biblical account of Esther is intact here, but Ms Kohn does take some liberties around it. For one thing, she has the young Jewish girl Haddasah initially betrothed to Mordechai, before being sent to the harem of King Xerxes. Mordechai himself has taken on the coloration of the court and of the worshippers of Ahura Mazda and urges the young Haddasah to: "Let yourself be known only as Esther, foster daughter of Marduka the Babylonian." Then the great bulk of the action occurs in the harem. The novel focuses on how Esther learns to wield political power within that closed world, which will serve her in good stead when she later needs to affect the wide world.
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Having seen all the comparisons with Anita Diamant's THE RED TENT, I knew that I had to read this book. I can't say that the comparisons were valid. While the story and topic were interesting and the writing fast and easy to follow, I can't say that I ever felt captivated or motivated to continue. Although I did finally finish the book, it never had that "can't wait to get to the next page" feel. And the ending was so anti-climactic! One question bothered me throughout: Why was Esther so head-over-heels in love with her cousin and unwilling to let go of an impossible dream of being with him? She barely knew him and he showed no signs of returning any of her affections. Enough said..I won't blow the whole story for you.
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