Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner
Published: 2011 by Harper
Source: ARC received from publisher for review
Esther Kaminsky is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girl in Jerusalem of the early 20th century, and as a result her role in life is simple: to marry and have many children (preferably sons). However, when her teacher notices Esther's talent for drawing and encourages her artistic talent, she begins a lifelong struggle with her obligations to family and faith and her desire for self-expression.
Esther definitely has rebellious tendencies, and merely by studying with her French teacher, Mademoiselle Thibaux, she would be causing shame to her family if they knew about it. But her family is still central to her life, and when crises and tragedy strikes, her art is put aside; but it is always with her:
"You may have forbidden yourself to hold a pencil or a brush," Mlle Thibaux said, "but you can't change the way your eyes distinguish hues where everyone else sees merely bland colors. You can't change the fact that you watch the world from a perspective unavailable to others. You can't change the nature of the dreams that come to you at night."
After an arranged marriage and the birth of her children, Esther seems settled and content with the life chosen for her. But when she sails to Paris -- to meet up with her husband who has been in Europe on business -- the inner conflicts of her youth resurface.
Of course being the francophile that I am I loved the part of the book set in Paris the best; but it wasn't only the setting that I loved reading. It's probably a cliche but when she was in Paris, Esther - sheltered from the outside world essentially her whole life - was allowed to completely be herself, without any obligations to anyone but herself. Yes, she had doubts about whether her choices were right or proper, but she did them anyway and let the consequences fall where they may, and for that I have to admire her ability to develop such courage.
I did find the first part of the book a little dry, though I understand its necessity to the novel as a whole, and I probably needed a longer timeline to appreciate the novel's epilogue; but otherwise I found Jerusalem Maiden to be enjoyable and an insightful look into Orthodox Jewish life in the early 1900s.