Sunday, 17 April 2011
Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner
I recently read an ARC copy of Jerusalem Maiden. It tells the story of Esther, born into a very Orthodox Jewish community in Israel in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Growing up in poverty, she is taught that as a Jewish girl in the Holy City, it is her role and responsibility to marry an Orthodox man and hasten the coming of the Messiah by having as many children as possible. Esther struggles against these expectations and also against the commandment not to make idols as she is a talented artist. Spanning several decades and historical changes, Jerusalem Maiden follows Esther through her attempts to break free from convention and live according to her wishes rather than responsibilities.
I enjoyed this book; Carner is a talented writer and her descriptions of the locations in the book (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Paris) were very vivid and I had to remind myself of where I actually was when I put the book down. As I find religion fascinating, I loved the parts dealing with her childhood and community and felt that it was done very well - informative but not over the top. Carner had also obviously completed extensive research about her era and setting as everything just felt right, like being transported back in time.
Esther was a great main character in that she was easy to sympathise with. She was engaged in a constant push-and-pull with her religion; as soon as the desire to escape became overwhelming and she actually left her community, the fear and obligations would pull her back. She couldn't truly be happy anywhere. However, some of Esther's thoughts seemed a bit modern for the historical setting of the book, especially with regard to her children and sex. I know that Esther had a somewhat radical art teacher as a child, but it was hard for me personally to imagine someone with such a sheltered and conservative upbringing having such liberal, up-to-date thoughts.
The relationships in the book were well written. Although it was soon clear who Esther wanted to be with (Pierre, not Jewish), I liked that Carner didn't take the easy way out by making her husband unlikeable. He just came across as a nice man who couldn't understand his wife and her desires. I also liked how the romance was a large part of the book, but didn't dominate it - it was mainly about Esther and her struggle to find her own way.
Overall, well worth a read. It reminded me of The Historian in that the setting was just as important as the characters and I was left with an urge to visit Jerusalem and go back in time to pre-WW2 Paris.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: 31st May 2011