The Weight of Ink : novel
Author: Rachel Kadish
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
Genre: Historical fiction
Hardcover Edition: 560 pages
Source: Personal copy

This is a book with a beautiful dust jacket, so attractive that it played an important role in my decision to purchase the book. And then too, the subject matter seemed weighted with an intriguing tale.

This novel is the story of two women for whom intellectual pursuit is everything, or nearly so. In the year 2000 Helen Watt is a researcher nearing the end of her career and one who has seemingly had a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents dropped into her arms. The study of these documents, with the help of Aaron Levy an American graduate student, soon reveals that quite possibly they were scribed by a woman, though given the sex role constraints of the time, this would be thought impossible.

I began to read this book in late summer and soon put it aside to turn my reading attention elsewhere. The book was a dense and difficult read; it seemed perhaps a better time would come along to tackle it. But as the weeks passed, the character Helen Watt nagged at me and later in the fall I began again. I was captivated by the romance between a young Helen and Drot in a camp in Israel where volunteers and soldiers shared space though I never fully understood their tasks there. They were both people with deep feelings.

At the Thanksgiving holiday with a houseguest and then a trip to Oklahoma to visit family, I again put this book aside because of its heft, impossible to travel with. On Dec. 8 I began reading again. Now committed to Helen and her assistant Aaron and understanding something of their task with these historic documents, I was determined to better know Ester, the young woman from the seventeenth century who was willing to be an outcast, if only she could continue to work with the blind Rabbi on intellectual pursuits.

I relate this because the on-again-off-again reading was very likely part of the reason I found the book so difficult. In addition, I lacked prior knowledge of the restoration period in English history, and knew very little of Jewish history in that time and place. Yet both of the women were intriguing characters, attempting to break the bonds of their time period and still accomplish an important historical task and write about it.

The tale has a satisfying ending. Both woman and the character of Aaron are multi-dimensional people who are laser focused on their work. As expected this complicates their lives. Along with characters that make the reader feel deeply, this author has created suspense amid the rivalries of the academic world. Those of us who love to read historical fiction are often drawn to daily life in another time and place. As a reader I came to understand what it was like to live in the home of a seventeenth century rabbi in London and something about how things were in that household. Likewise I learned somewhat less about work in an important historical research library. This author has accomplished much with her convoluted tale and her excellent and sensitive prose.

Ink can be heavy on a page in a number of ways. In this novel that is certainly true. Complexity is not a bad thing. Both protagonists show great determination as they strive to unravel the mysteries before them. They are rewarded and so, I believe, will be any reader who shows like determination in completing this read.

This may be the challenging read you would like to take on in the new

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