Jerusalem Maiden (TLC Tour Review)

June 22, 2011

Book cover for "Jerusalem Maiden" by Talia Carner.Title: Jerusalem Maiden

Author: Talia Carner

Publication Year: 2011

Pages: 464

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Source: Review copy from the publisher, through TLC Book Tours

From the cover:

In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, a young Orthodox Jewish woman in the holy city of Jerusalem is expected to marry and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah’s arrival. While the feisty Esther Kaminsky understands her obligations, her artistic talent inspires her to secretly explore worlds outside her religion, to dream of studying in Paris — and to believe that God has a special destiny for her. When tragedy strikes her family, Esther views it as a warning from an angry God and suppresses her desires in order to become an obedient “Jerusalem maiden.”

But when a surprising opportunity forces itself on to her preordained path, Esther finds her beliefs clashing dangerously with the passions she has staved off her entire life — forcing her to confront the most difficult and damning question of all: To whom must she be true, God or herself?

Ever since I moved to Toronto from my small, majority-European/Christian hometown, I’ve been fascinated by people from other cultures and religions. One of the more visible groups here is the Hassidic Jewish community in the north end of the city; the first time I drove through the area on a Saturday, I was completely floored by the visible difference of these people who I never really knew existed.

Since then, I’ve read a little more about the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, as part of my readings about Palestinian people in Israel, but it hasn’t really been my focus. Rather, it was more like peripheral learning. So when the chance to read Jerusalem Maiden came up, I jumped at it.

And I’m very glad that I did.

In this book, Carner gives an extremely intimate look into the lives of Ultra Orthodox Judaism in Israel, something that most of us have never really been exposed to. I learned a lot about Judaism in general from this book, and even more so about the particulars of this very right-wing, conservative branch of the faith.

I loved that the narrator was a woman, and so the reader saw everything through her eyes – including the good and the bad of women’s experiences in the Ultra Orthodox community and belief system. And, in the spirit of being honest – a lot of the things that happened (and especially things that were said and beliefs that were espoused) really pissed me off. Seriously. My poor little feminist heart was trying to tear right through my chest. It was all I could do to try to keep calm and continue with the story instead of throwing the book across the room in anger.

But I think – and I hope – that these elements were included in the book to give an accurate picture of what life in an Ultra Orthodox Jewish community, particularly in the time period of the book (1910s-1920s, mostly). It made historical sense, because it fit what real people believed and acted like in that time period – and how some still live now – but it just made me angry. In the end, that’s part of what made Jerusalem Maiden so realistic for me. The characters and situations forced me to react.

I’m not saying that this book was a happy read, because it wasn’t … or that you’ll love all the characters and really accept the beliefs they espouse, because you probably won’t. What I found really fantastic, though, was the way that the author created these complex (and ultimately flawed) characters that really stuck with me. I wanted things to go differently for them, and it just didn’t always work out.

That’s what was so important to me in this book, and what I think you’ll take away from it. Beautifully crafted characters and vivid situations. You’ll also learn a bit about the community, culture, and religion, and become engrossed in Esther’s journey to figure out what’s right for her. But in the end, it’s about putting yourself in the place of someone else, and feeling their pain and frustration at the lives they’ve been given.

Rating:

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8 Comments

  • lisa :) June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    This sounds like a wonderfully interesting read, and that’s great that it paralleled your goal of learning more about Jewish culture.

  • Helen Murdoch June 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Such an interesting book and a great review! I love reading and learning about cultures that are different from my own

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours June 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    My mom grew up in New York City in the middle of a community of Hassidic Jews. Needless to say, they were very different from her Italian/Irish family!

    I’m fascinated by other religions and cultures so I’m very excited to pick this book up for myself. Thanks for being on the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  • Alex June 23, 2011 at 5:37 am

    My favorite book about Hasidic Judaism is My Name is Ahser Lev. It’s about a natural-born artist growing in such a community in NY. You might also like it.

  • natalie @book, line, and sinker June 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    i live a few towns over from one of the largest orthodox jewish populations in america and i’ve learned a great deal about their holidays, beliefs, and customs. this book sounds like it would be right up my alley–i’m always looking to learn about other groups and do enjoy novels with a historical bent. thanks for the review–tlc never lets me down! 🙂

  • Lauren June 26, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I hadn’t heard about this book until I read your review, but it’s definitely going on my TBR list now. It sounds like an amazing book with lots of interesting history. Thanks for the great review!

  • Aths July 4, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    This book sounds fascinating! I wasn’t very interested in it initially but I’m glad I came across your review – I’m going to look it up!

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