The Weight of Ink

Rachel Kadish. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (592p) ISBN 978-0-544-86646-1
Like A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, this emotionally rewarding novel follows the familiar pattern of present-day academics trying to make sense of a mystery from the past. Helen Watt, a British historian facing retirement, and her much younger American assistant, Aaron Levy, are asked to examine a cache of documents found in a London townhouse, purported to be the work of a blind rabbi in 1661 and written out by a copyist known only as Aleph. Aaron is brash and right from the outset rubs prickly, Parkinson’s-suffering Helen the wrong way. But they are forced to work together after Helen realizes that Aleph was most probably a Jewish woman—unheard-of for the 17th century. In alternating chapters, we see life of the copyist, Ester Velasquez, as an immigrant from Amsterdam, her friendship with a wealthy Jewish merchant’s daughter, her attempts to survive the plague and the Great Fire of London, and her covert correspondence with the preeminent minds of the period, including rogue philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza. Meanwhile, in the present, Helen and Aaron overcome academic infighting, rival historians, and greedy house owners to uncover Ester’s fate. What they find out about her life informs what they ultimately learn about themselves. Ester’s story illuminates the plight of London Jews in the 17th century, and Helen and Aaron’s sparking relationship is vivid and memorable, as the two historians discover how desire can transcend time. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/24/2017
Release date: 06/06/2017
Open Ebook - 574 pages - 978-0-544-86667-6
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-5094-5967-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-68168-631-8
Paperback - 592 pages - 978-1-328-91578-8
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