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Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel Paperback – May 31, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 267 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A fascinating look at a little-known culture and time . . . Tuck JERUSALEM MAIDEN in your beach bag.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Talia Carner uses beautiful language, exquisite storytelling, and detailed research to transport the reader into the world of old Jerusalem . . . This is a book to savor and discuss.” (Jewish Book World)

“A welcome glimpse into a little-understood world.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Engaging . . . Carner renders Esther’s world with great authority and detail, revealing intimate familial rituals within the larger political and socioeconomic context.” (Publishers Weekly)

“JERUSALEM MAIDEN is a page-turning and thought-provoking novel. Extraordinary sensory detail vividly conjures another time and place; heroine Esther Kaminsky’s poignant struggle transcends time and place. The ultimate revelation here: for many women, if not most, 2011 is no different than 1911, but triumph is nonetheless possible.” (Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route)

“Talia Carner is a skillful and heartfelt storyteller who takes the reader on journey of the senses, into a world long forgotten. Her story of a woman who struggles and seeks the light is universal and inspiring. Read this book and savor.” (Jennifer Lauck, author of the New York Times bestseller Blackbird and the newly released Found: A Memoir)

“JERUSALEM MAIDEN won me over from the first moment I began reading it...meticulously researched, and steeped in thorough knowledge, no less than deep understanding, of both this community and of the world of art in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century... I could not put it down.” (Eva Etzioni-Halevy, author of The Triumph of Deborah, The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth)

“JERUSALEM MAIDEN is a novel but the reader feels that she has entered living, lost history. Once engaged, you cannot put this book down . . . [H]eartbreakingly real.” (Phyllis Chesler, author of Women and Madness and Women of the Wall)

“[A]n exquisitely explosive journey . . . [JERUSALEM MAIDEN] immerses us in a provocative and astonishingly realized world filled with evil spirits, arranged marriages, prayer, poverty, and the pain of breaking free.” (Michelle Cameron, author of The Fruit of Her Hands)

“Exquisitely told...a moving and utterly captivating novel that I will be thinking about for a long, long time.” (Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of THE SILENT GIRL)

“Esther Kaminsky is a true heroine . . . The truly marvellous thing about JERUSALEM MAIDEN is how deeply Talia Carner is able to evoke Esther’s faith and the complexity of the choices she faces. A beautiful and timely novel.” (Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street and Eva Moves the Furniture)

“As bold and fragile as its main character, JERUSALEM MAIDEN is at heart a story of revolution. . . Captivates at every level, heart and mind.” (Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature)

“Compelling ... vividly examines the grinding poverty and oppressive religious domination the heroine suffers in pre-World War I Mea Shearim, and then compares it with the seductive nonconformity she enjoys in the Parisian art world ten years later.” (Maggie Anton, author of Rashi's Daughters)

“[A] fascinating story of how a talented, artistic woman from a conservative faith must balance the responsibilities of her heritage against her passions for love and art ... [JERUSALEM MAIDEN] brings an elusive time and place to life and makes you question the strengths of your own beliefs.” (Vanitha Sankaran, author of Watermark)

“A tale spun by a natural storyteller...what is striking is the timelessness and dreamlike quality of her worlds. We are drawn into the saga of Esther kaminsky, the Jerusalem maiden, and stay under her story’s spell until the ambiguously happy end.” (Hassadah Magazine)

From the Back Cover

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?

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More to Explore
Download an exclusive essay by Talia Carner on writing Jerusalem Maiden [PDF].

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; X-Library - 1st edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062004379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062004376
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (267 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Teacher Mom VINE VOICE on May 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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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.
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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.
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