- File Size: 3249 KB
- Print Length: 592 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 6, 2017)
- Publication Date: June 6, 2017
- Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544866673
- ISBN-13: 978-0544866676
- ASIN: B01I4FPLUG
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
The Weight of Ink Kindle Edition
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A USA Today Bestseller
Winner of a National Jewish Book Award
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One of Ms. Magazine's "Bookmark" Titles
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"A gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion."
"Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink is like A.S. Byatt's Possession, but with more seventeenth-century Judaism...A deeply moving novel."
“I gasped out loud…[Kadish has a ] mastery of language…[The Weight of Ink] was so powerful and visceral…Incredible…I haven’t been able to read a book since.”
—Rose McGowan, New York Times Book Review Podcast
"Rachel Kadish’s novel The Weight of Ink is my top Jewish feminist literary pick. Kadish’s novel weaves a web of connections between Ester Velasquez, a Portuguese Jewish female scribe and philosopher living in London in the 1660s, and Helen Watt, a present-day aging historian who’s trying to preserve Ester’s voice even as she revisits her own repressed romantic plot. Both Ester and Helen are part of a long literary line of what writer Rebecca Goldstein has termed 'mind-proud women.'"
—Lilith, "7 Jewish Feminist Highlights of 2017"
"So many historical novels play with the 'across worlds and centuries trope,' but this one really delivers, tying characters and manuscripts together with deep assurance. A book to get lost in this summer."
—Bethanne Patrick, LitHub
"A page-turner. Kadish moves back and forth in time (including an excursion to Israel in the 1950s) with great skill. She knows how to generate suspense – and sympathy for her large cast of characters...packed with fascinating details...The Weight of Ink belongs to its women...Kadish’s most impressive achievement, it seems to me, lies in getting readers to think that maybe, just maybe, a woman like Esther could have existed in the Jewish diaspora circa 1660."
"An amazing feat...A great literary and intellectual mystery...you feel as if you're sifting through these letters yourself...a very immersive summer read."
—Megan Marshall, "Authors on Authors" for Radio Boston
"A superb and wonderfully imaginative reconstruction of the intellectual life of a Jewish woman in London during the time of the Great Plague."
—Times Higher Education
"An impressive achievement...The book offers a surprisingly taut and gripping storyline...The Weight of Ink has the brains of a scholar, the drive of a sleuth, and the soul of a lover."
—Historical Novel Society
"Deeply satisfying to anyone who enjoyed Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book...[The Weight of Ink is a] historical epic that transports readers back to the days of Shakespeare, Spinoza and the Great Plague, uncovering some rich details of Jewish life in the 1600s along the way."
—Jewish World News
"Kadish knows how to create a propulsive plot peopled with distinctive characters. The Weight of Ink has enough mysteries to keep readers turning pages, and a fair amount of thematic and intellectual heft...Rewarding."
"This astonishing third novel from Kadish introduces readers to the 17th-century Anglo-Jewish world with not only excellent scholarship but also fine storytelling. The riveting narrative and well-honed characters will earn a place in readers' hearts."
—Library Journal, starred review
“Like A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, this emotionally rewarding novel follows […] present-day academics trying to make sense of a mystery from the past…Vivid and memorable.”
"A mysterious collection of papers hidden in a historic London home sends two scholars of Jewish history on an unforgettable quest....Kadish's characters are memorable, and we're treated to a host of them: pious rabbis and ribald actors, socialites and troubled young men, Mossad agents and rule-worshipping archivists. From Shakespeare's Dark Lady to Spinoza's philosophical heresies, Kadish leaves no stone unturned in this moving historical epic. Chock-full of rich detail and literary intrigue."
"Kadish positions two women born centuries apart yet united by a thirst for knowledge at the core of a richly textured, addictive novel stretching back and forth through time, from contemporary London to the late seventeenth century....Kadish has fashioned a suspenseful literary tale that serves as a compelling tribute to women across the centuries committed to living, breathing, and celebrating the life of the mind."
"The Weight of Ink hooked me so deeply...Kadish, with storytelling genius, mirrors events and eureka moments across the centuries, binding the characters to one another. And an enormously satisfying ending wraps everything up while leaving enough rough edges to mimic the loose ends of real life."
—Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
“The Weight of Ink is the best kind of quest novel—full of suspense, surprises and characters we care passionately about. How thrilling it is to watch the imperious Helen and the scholarly Aaron turn into brilliant literary detectives as they uncover the identity of a woman who lived more than 300 years ago, and how thrilling it is to get to know that woman intimately in her own time. A beautiful, intelligent and utterly absorbing novel.”
—Margot Livesey, author of Mercury
"Rachel Kadish draws us deep inside the vivid, rarely-seen world of 17th century Jewish London, conjuring the life and legacy of an extraordinary woman with an insatiable hunger for knowledge and education. A vital testament to the importance of books and ideas, The Weight of Ink unfolds like a revelation.”
—Kate Manning, author of My Notorious Life
“From its opening pages The Weight of Ink signals its reverence for words, both those from which the narrative is constructed and those which lie at the heart of its story—for this a novel about the importance of words: written and spoken, historical and contemporary, hidden away and brought to light. Rachel Kadish has fashioned a literary mystery spanning centuries, continents and languages; a mystery of great moral stakes and elemental human desires.”
—Leah Hager Cohen, author of No Book but the World
"The Weight of Ink tells of the struggle and the triumph of a woman trying to do justice to the largeness of her intellect and ambition. As audacious in its conception as it is brilliant in its execution."
—Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away
“Rarely have I read a contemporary novel that so immersed me in its world and drew me so deeply into the lives of its characters. Rachel Kadish is a brilliant story-teller, with a mystery writer's instinct for pacing and a willingness to take on the largest human questions. The Weight of Ink is astonishing.”
—Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice
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Those interests include theology and the incredible injustices which dogma-driven society has perpetrated against women, homosexuals, Jews, and others. This book touches on all these aspects, and many more. As the plot summary indicates, Helen Watt, an aging British historian and expert in Jewish studies, is invited by a former student to assist in the evaluation of some manuscripts found during the renovation of a house in a London suburb. Helen, suffering from Parkinson Disease, needs help in studying what she realizes is a treasure-trove of documents, and calls upon a colleague to recommend a post-graduate student to assist. Enter Aaron Levy, a young American secular Jew who has run into a roadblock on his own research attempting to find a “Jewish Connection” in the writings Shakespeare. Helen and Aaron find their collaboration both uneasy and deeply rewarding.
Further dramatic tension is provided by the fact that Helen’s ploy of having the college (from which she is about to retire) acquire the documents for conservation and archiving immediately raises the specter of academic competitiveness. It soon becomes obvious that the papers include the writing of Ester Velasquez, the ward of the blind Rabbi Moseh HaCoen Mendes, a Portuguese Jew. Having fled Portugal for the relative safety of Amsterdam after the Inquisition killed his parents and blinded him, Rabbi Mendes has been sent to London to try to assist the struggling Jewish community there. The existence of a female scribe writing in 17th Century London just before plague and then fire decimated the city is remarkable enough. However, as Helen and Aaron continue to delve into Ester’s writings an incredible back-story emerges. This woman was not only a scribe, but a philosopher as well, determined to connect with some of the great – and, in the opinion of most other people of that era heretical – thinkers of her time. As the story weaves back and forth between Ester’s traumas and those of Helen and Aaron as they seek to discover the reality of who this woman was and what she really represented (before being “scooped” by other investigators), great depth and richness of thought evolves.
As mentioned in my opening comments, this is not a book I could recommend to someone seeking light or trivial reading. However, it is profound, fascinating and deeply engaging for anyone who is concerned with the fundamental issues Rachel Kadish so brilliantly addresses through the words and thoughts of her extraordinary characters.
And this is my problem with this good book. The writing was beautiful, but dense and often cryptic; I sometimes had trouble understanding it, and many of the letters and scenes went on for too long.
And yet I highlighted 27 excerpts, whether for the beauty of the writing or its resonance.
On the very first page, describing Helen Watt: "Hope against reason: an opiate she'd long abandoned." What great characterization. As was the subtle yet plainspoken paragraph alerting us that Watt is very ill. The writing was so beautiful at times, I read it aloud to my husband, savoring the work of a true craftsman.
The story progresses along three lines: that of Ester Velasquez, who lives in London, c. 1660; and of the modern-day scholars Watt and Levy. One theme of the book could be "how will you use your life? Will you live it fully or squander it?"-- in self-containment (Watt); the cowardice of the late-maturer (Levy); or by accepting cultural repression of women (Velasquez).
As Levy learns about Velasquez having to hide her intellect, and the degree to which she suffers isolation because of her mind, his understanding grows in regard to the woman he loves, and women in general. This is a coming-of-age story. Levy is twenty five, beautiful, gifted with women, and stuck. He's unhappy and unsure of himself.
Watt, gravely ill but persevering at the unlocking of the mystery of Ester, also examines her own life, with a lengthy flashback to when she was a young woman in love. Her fear of that love shaped her entire life, and it's only at the end and through her work with Levy that she achieves clarity in this regard.
So, good character arcs, incredibly rich historical details, lots of good in this book, but overall, too long, opaque, and subtle for me. My apologies to the author, who must be a gifted scholar herself to have completed this work.
Rachel Kadish did none of that- she managed to weave an engrossing story with rich, compelling characters that come to life on the page. And the fact that this is a 576 page novel about documents and correspondence between rabbis and remains more of a page turner than any recent "thriller" is not lost on me.
The basic plot: Helen is an aging historian, and near the end of her academic career she's called out to the home of one of her students, after he's unearthed a trove of historical documents during a renovation. Aaron, an American graduate student who is finding his dissertation to be a dead end, is tasked to help her.
What they found- and the implications of it- astound them both. Through Kadish's skillful writing, the reader is effortlessly shifted between the worlds of both Helen and Aaron's situations in modern-day London, Israel in the 1960's, London in the 1660's and the characters that inhabit all these worlds.
I cannot recommend this novel enough. It's beautifully written, a pleasure to read, and the kind of book that keeps you invested from the first page to the last.
Top international reviews
Helen tries to make sense of these documents, and her part of the story shows the struggle she had, initially with her co-worker, Aaron Levy, whom she had had to employ because her Parkinson’s disease made it unsafe for her to handle the manuscripts, and, throughout, with rival academics favoured by the Head of her Department.
As for Ester, she is that unusual thing, a 17t century female Jewish scholar, whose activities and philosophical interests go far beyond being merely a scribe foe the rabbi, and there is a strong feminist angle to the book. Ester even writes, under a false male name, to Spinoza, who had been excommunicated by the Amsterdam rabbis - defying the ban which prohibited all Jews from being in contact with him. She shares his heretical ideas about a God (or Nature) being indifferent to human suffering. (She had taken the false name from an actor she knew, and that actor would in due course be acclaimed as a significant, if yet unknown, philosopher.) She regards all this correspondence a betrayal of the rabbi. We learn at one stage in the book that, having lost two homes, she had married; but the author teases us with apparent contradictions as to who the husband was.
Near the end of the novel there is a real tour de force, as an additional archive, hidden elsewhere is the house and even more significant than the previous one, is discovered. The previous one had shown Ester asking Spinoza questions; but this one shows wresting respect from that philosopher by the arguments she deployed in criticism of his ideas. It needs a reasonable acquaintance with Spinoza’s ideas to understand what the arguments were about, and here, even more than elsewhere is the novel, Kadish takes previous knowledge by her readers for granted.
It is a learnéd book. Just how much research has gone into the book is revealed in an appendix. Kadish conveys a lot of information about the Jewish communities in Amsterdam, in London, and even in Florence, and that is both interesting and relevant to the main story. The passages about Spinoza, difficult though they are, turn out to be at the very heart of it.
However, that main story is excessively diluted by the back history of some of the characters, notably that of Helen (for example, a love affaire she had had as a young woman on a visit to Israel with a soldier who was also a Shin Beth operative), and, especially, that of Ester which goes back three generations (and will be referred to again near the end of the book.
Rachel Kadish also devotes an enormous amount of space in this very long novel of nearly 600 pages to a number of subplots. Some of these are not without some interest (examples: the sexual encounters of various characters; Ester’s feelings about men who were courting her; her experiences as a paid companion to a Jewish woman who behaves in a very unJewish manner; a trip on the Thames), but they have nothing to do with the story of the manuscripts. That may not bother some readers, who may enjoy the “sweep” of the book; but I found it an irritant.
I found the 17th century dialogue quite obscure in places, and some of the later 17th century scenes in the book so badly written as to be well-nigh incomprehensible to me. And I am ashamed that much of the meaning of the last few chapters quite eluded me. To my surprise, this quite difficult, mannered and sprawling book has found enough readers to make it an American best seller. Somewhat more understandably, a knowledgeable panel has chosen it for the American National Jewish Book Award; but I found its discursiveness a massive distraction, and the increasing obscurity towards the end of the book exasperating. The shortcoming may be mine – though I have to say that I have rarely been so defeated by difficult novels.
So I find rating this book very hard. Its knowledge deserves five stars, but I rate my enjoyment of it, for reasons set out above, at no more than the two stars I have given it.