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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

An intellectual and emotional jigsaw puzzle of a novel for readers of A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book.

Title: The Weight of Ink
Author: Rachel Kadish
Publish Date: June 6, 2017, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

I give this book 5 stars. It’s deep, thoughtful, weighty, and has so much to say about women’s role in society both today and in years past.

I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth between the two female main characters separated by centuries. The tension created by the author to find out what happens to both heroines was done so well that even the last few pages left me breathless. The role love & marriage play in most women’s lives is also a core theme in this book.

This is not a book for when you just need some brain candy. Part of the beauty of the book is the long philosophical treatises on the nature of man and God’s role in humanity’s day to day life.

I enjoyed Esther’s rebellious spirit and how she finds ways to prevent herself from being ensnared in the gender role that society creates for her. One of my favorite moments was when she finds herself about to be married off and recognizes in the other woman’s meddling that the only way forward for that other woman was to “insert herself, for sustenance, into the forming of further matches, whether or not they might serve as traps for the souls thus bound.” This is indicative of the writing style throughout the book that I enjoyed so much; part narrative, part poetry, part philosophical rigor.

I also learned much about the early Jewish community in London during the time of the plague. It was fascinating to read how the Jews that first settled in London were treated and how the plague effected the whole city. In addition, it was interesting to be a part of the letters that were being written in that time that laid the ground work for modern metaphysical thinking.

I highly recommend this book for book groups since there is so much to talk about along the themes of freedom, community, and power.


Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small.

Title: Marrow Island
Author: Alexis M. Smith
Publish Date: June 7, 2016, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small. A second novel from a bookseller whose sleeper-hit debut was praised by Karen Russell as “haunted, joyful, beautiful….” it promises to capture and captivate new readers even as it thrills her many existing fans.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

What an interesting and thought provoking-book this was. I really enjoyed the story, and the main character, Lucie, was fascinating. I can’t quite give this book 5 stars because the ending left me unsatisfied. Since I finished the book right after watching the movie Beatriz at Dinner, I was doubly unsatisfied. Both left you wondering, “Well, now what?”

Marrow Island does, however, have many deep themes to explore. I particularly like the book’s environmental emphasis and the mystery that surrounds what happened to the main character. More importantly, I like the exploration of the nature of relationships with childhood friends and relationships one forms as an adult. I was drawn in by the friendship of Lucie and Katie. I particularly like the author’s explanation, in the Q & A at the end of the book, that the relationship between the two of them was to be visceral, murky, and a little bit twisted. There’s no doubt that the relationship is exactly that. I also like the tension Smith is able to create toward the end of the book, as the reader is drawn into Lucie’s ability to rationalize making such a poor decision as to return to an area that is under threat of a wildfire just to prove to herself that she’s not going crazy.

The author writes incredibly well and is able to create such vivid images. A simple example is when Lucie visits a care facility, and the highly polished floors make it difficult for the residents to move quickly. Lucie thinks, “I wonder if this is another trap, like the shiny floors, intended to steal a few minutes here and there from life by slowing a body down.”

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to book groups since there is so much to discuss.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, or Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.

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