Maggie Anton is the author of the Rashi’s Daughters trilogy (Penguin/Plume), which includes Book I: Joheved (2007), Book II: Miriam (2007) and, most recently, Book III: Rachel. RBL caught up with Anton at her California home, just before she was headed to the airport to go on tour and just in time for the Jewish High Holidays.
RBL: Why did you decide to write about Rashi?
Maggie Anton: Rashi is the greatest Jewish scholar in history. More people study his words every day than any other Jewish scholar. His was the very first Hebrew commentary published on the printing press. It just so happens that when Martin Luther wanted a German translation of the Bible, he used Rashi. So did those in England. If that wasn’t enough, his commentary on the entire Talmud is the basis of modern Judaism.
RBL: What’s unique about Rachel’s story?
MA: Together the three books are one long family saga. In the first two, the daughters are teenagers and their relationships are more classic: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy again, etc. But Rachel’s romance is mature; she is already married and her story is about how a marriage survives, especially during a time of such conflict as the First Crusade. I’m pretty sure Rachel’s story is the only one about the Crusades written from a Jewish point of view. One of my editors said that her story is like Gone with the Wind, but with the Crusades instead of the Civil War.
RBL: Are you surprised your books are so popular among romance readers?
MA: Well, when I decided to write about Rashi’s daughters, I thought romance would provide a good, basic scaffolding for the plot. I like romances and happy endings. If people are going to read a book, I want them to have something that will satisfy their hearts. I knew my audience would be women, and I assumed other women like the same books that I did. I also decided that part of being historically accurate is being explicit in everything, including sex.
RBL: Are you sad the trilogy is finished?
MA: I thought I might be depressed—I have been working on them for 15 years. But I do a lot of lecturing to woman’s groups and at synagogues so I am still very immersed in Rashi’s daughters.
RBL: What’s next?
MA: A novel about a woman mentioned in the Talmud—she doesn’t have a name as far as we know and everyone just refers to her as Rab Hisda’s daughter. She wants to marry two men, first one, then the other. She ends up marrying both, and I thought, wow, now there is an interesting personality!