The Weight Of Ink tells the story of Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi in London in the 1600s right before the plague. At the same time we learn about Helen Watt, a close to retiring British historian who is working on translations of some 17th century documents signed by scribe “Aleph”. Even though these women lived-in different centuries, both were strong and determined to pursue their interests and fight to be heard, and choosing a life to satisfy the mind and sacrifice the heart.
Ester is a product of the Portuguese Inquisition and although displaced with little family, what feels like home for her is her job a a scribe for the rabbi, where her love of learning is nourished. She turns down marriage offers as she prefers to work for the rabbi in order to continue her scholarly pursuits. She has an open mind and longs to converse with philosophers and educated men, and although it is not acceptable for women to engage in these types of discussion, she creates unorthodox opportunities to be heard.
Helen has a love of Jewish history and as she and her American graduate student assistant Aaron Levy investigate the many pages of letters written to and from the London based rabbi to determine the identity of the scribe, it is a race against time as Helen’s physical health is failing, she is approaching retirement, and another team of historians are working on the same project.
We also learn about Aaron Levy, the Jewish assistant, who is interested in a relationship with a girl who is living in Israel on a Kibbutz and is pushing him away. And then there are Ian and Brigette Easton, the couple who live in the 17th century house where the documents were found. This is a complex story; a mystery and rich with history and well developed characters.
Author Rachel Kadish provides extensive depth: Jewish theology and philosophy, interfaith relationships and lost love, 17th century history, the Portuguese inquisition, the plague and so much more…no skimping on research here, but for me a bit too wordy, complex and long. The Weight of Ink is powerful, intricate and the well deserved winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Although this is not an easy book, if you love historical fiction and Jewish history and set aside a big chunk of time to conquer it, you will be rewarded with the beauty of memorable storytelling.
About the Author:
I often begin writing when something is bothering me. Years ago, I was thinking about Virginia Woolf’s question: what if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister?
Woolf’s answer: She died without writing a word.
What, I wondered, would it take for a woman of that era, with that kind of capacious intelligence, not to die without writing a word?
For one thing, she’d have to be a genius at breaking rules.
My novel The Weight of Ink reaches back in time to ask the question: what does it take for a woman not to be defeated when everything around her is telling her to sit down and mind her manners? I started writing with two characters in mind, both women who don’t mind their manners: a contemporary historian named Helen Watt and a seventeenth century Inquisition refugee named Ester Velasquez. It’s been a delight working on their story.
The Weight of Ink is my third novel, but I’ve also written two other novels and one novella, plus a few dozen essays and stories. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I put words to paper because it’s my way of metabolizing life. To paraphrase Henry James: I don’t really know what I think until I see what I say.
Thanks for your interest in books.