the weight of ink   The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (2017 fiction)

At nearly 600 pages, this work of historical fiction is not for the faint of heart. When a 17th century estate in England undergoes renovation, a cache of letters and documents which have not seen the light of day since the mid-1600’s is discovered hidden under a stairwell. Ailing history professor Helen Watt and graduate student Aaron Levy are the initial evaluators and translators of the documents and determine that the probable writer is a Jewish woman, an astounding occurrence for a time in which women were primarily relegated to housework. Flipping back and forth between present day and the 1600’s, the novel tells the story of Ester Velasquez, a Jewish Portuguese orphan who takes on the correspondence of a blind rabbi, and of Helen and Aaron’s quest to find our more about Ester’s role and her apparent contact with major philosophers such as Spinoza. It is a complicated story, some of which is told via the philosophical letters written to other Jewish clerics and to the various philosophers. If you are put off by the letters, be assured that you can skim most of them without losing the thread of the plots. This is a rich experience which contains much of the flavor of the 17th century, as well as a wonderful description of the documents and the complications of finding and protecting them. Helen, Aaron, and Ester are very special characters, and their stories are well-told.


Reviewed by Ginger Russell


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