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Review: Jerusalem Maiden

July 12, 2011

Esther Kaminsky is a young Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewess growing up in Jerusalem in the early part of the twentieth century.  She strives to be holy and pious but also struggles with some of the demands and traditions of her religion.  She yearns to create art and doesn’t want to marry.  Someone suggests an alternative and Esther thinks she may be able to change her destiny, but things don’t turn out the way she expected.  Now she must decide if she should live for herself or for her God.

I had mixed feelings about Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner.   It started out slowly for me, partly because of my unfamiliarity with the traditions of the religion and partly because of the liberal use of Hebrew or Yiddish words.  Once I caught on a little bit, the story picked up, and I became fascinated with Esther and her struggles and also learned a lot about the religion.  Esther really doesn’t have anyone to share her hopes, desires, and disappointments with, so I couldn’t help but feel for her. It seemed that a tragedy would strike every time she decided to do something for herself – she would attribute the tragedy to her actions and start all over again.

Carner’s writing is beautiful and her descriptions made me feel like I was there.  But, much of the book is Esther’s internal dialogue so I found that it dragged at times.   She never seemed to be able to reconcile the two sides of her life and that could be frustrating.  I did enjoy the glimpse of the Hasedi religion and World War I era Israel and Europe.

There was an event in the epilogue that took me totally by surprise and I found I wanted to know more at that point, so I didn’t want the book to end.  There is an author’s note in the back of the book that gives some explanation of Haredi Judaism and I think it would have helped me to read it before I read the book.  There’s also a great reader’s guide in the back to help in book club discussions – this book would make a great book club pick!

Jerusalem Maiden won’t be one of my favorite books of the year, but I did enjoy it and I’m glad I read it.  Several days later, it’s still on my mind.  It made me think and reflect and taught me some new things.  Talia Carner will be interviewed on Blog Talk Radio on July 12 at 7:00PM and I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say!

Review copy provided by Book Club Girl.   I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
49 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2011 5:22 am

    Nice review – have you tried ‘Disobedience’ by Naomi Alderman? It’s set in the orthodox Jewish community in north London and deals with similar themes. Having grown up in that area, I found it very interesting.

  2. July 12, 2011 5:37 am

    I have this book on my TBR , and I am looking forward to reading it. I am glad to know that though it started out slowly, it became more engrossing soon. All the reviews I have read till now have praised the author’s writing, which is great!

  3. July 12, 2011 6:57 am

    It’s great when a book teaches us new things or makes us think about certain topics.

  4. July 12, 2011 7:11 am

    I haven’t heard of this one before. I really enjoy learning about different religions and culture, this one might be for me. Thanks for the heads up that it starts slowly, that can be frustrating at times.

  5. July 12, 2011 7:23 am

    Reconcile her two selves, I can identify. In our culture and other cultures you’re expected to choose one thing or the other…Tough. I’ve decided to accept both sides of myself. No choice. Both selves are my shadow.:)

  6. July 12, 2011 8:00 am

    Nice review, it certainly sounds like an interesting book.

    http://www.ManOfLabook.com

  7. July 12, 2011 8:18 am

    I like books which look at one’s personal life and relationship with faith. There’s never an easy answer. I wonder when you said she always seemed to run into problems when she followed her own plan if the author was trying to convey it’s better to follow God’s plan? Very intriguing review on what seems to be an interesting book.

  8. July 12, 2011 8:34 am

    I really enjoyed this read and was excited to see your review of it today. Good point about the Haredi Judaism being explained in the back with the authors note. – that could have been used in the front of the book.

  9. July 12, 2011 8:52 am

    I think it’s good when a book stayed in your mind during several days ! I like your comment and would like to read it !

    I hope you found many “wondrous words “in it ! I’ll see it tomorrow !

  10. July 12, 2011 9:21 am

    Sounds such an interesting read. Not read anything with such an orthodox Jewish background.

  11. July 12, 2011 9:56 am

    You may want to try Sotah. I loved that book and it deals with similar themes, but is very readable.

  12. July 12, 2011 10:05 am

    beautiful cover, isn’t it? and it is always nice to learn something in a painless way..

  13. July 12, 2011 10:16 am

    Sounds like an intriguing book, thanks! for the great review.

  14. July 12, 2011 10:30 am

    I have this one on my shelf for imminent review, but I haven’t picked it up yet. I have been hearing mixed things, with some loving it, and others thinking it was sort of slow. I am wondering what kind of reaction I will have to it, and am sort of looking forward to starting it based on the synopsis that you posted. Thanks for the very honest and thoughtful review, Kathy. I appreciated it.

  15. July 12, 2011 10:36 am

    It does sound good and I do want to read it but now something gives me pause

  16. July 12, 2011 11:05 am

    The epilogue totally got me! I was a bit teary at the end. I really enjoyed this book and being inside Esther’s head although I was baffled for a good chunk of the start until I started to ‘get’ the rules of Esther’s world. I did an interview with Talia Carner and she talks about what parts of the books were a surprise to her while writing — I’m totally going to listen to her tonight because I found her to be interesting.

  17. July 12, 2011 12:05 pm

    I can’t wait to finish this book. I agree the terminology takes some getting used to but that just adds to the experience for me.

    Sorry this wasn’t a favorite for you.

  18. July 12, 2011 12:20 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read this one ever since meeting the author at BEA. I’ll take your advice and read the notes at the end first.

  19. July 12, 2011 12:21 pm

    I was excited about getting to this one. I think I had a bit of an easier time because I know a bit about the culture and language. I look forward to the show this afternoon.

  20. July 12, 2011 12:36 pm

    Sounds like we may see a few words from this on Wednesday! :–)

  21. July 12, 2011 12:42 pm

    Not sure this one is for me but I was thinking the same thing Jill said – there were probably lots of new words in this book.

  22. Veens permalink
    July 12, 2011 2:09 pm

    I think it is sometimes difficult to read about things we have no idea about. But I do like the theme and the cover, so hope to read it someday.

  23. July 12, 2011 3:42 pm

    Looks like you had a harder time with this one compared to some other reviews I’ve read. It’s on my to-read list, and thanks for the tip about the explanation of the religion in the back

  24. July 12, 2011 3:59 pm

    I don’t think this one would be for me, but I was curious about it. Nice review Kathy.

  25. July 12, 2011 5:13 pm

    This certainly sounds like a thought provoking read. I love learning about new cultures through books.

  26. July 12, 2011 6:52 pm

    Great cover! Sounds interesting, I love learning about other cultures.

  27. July 12, 2011 8:33 pm

    This is a book that I have not read yet but recommended to my sister in law because she is Jewish and adores books like this…thank you for sharing.

  28. Carol Wong permalink
    July 12, 2011 8:50 pm

    Thank you for the review Kathy. I am still reading it. I would have liked a vocabulary list in the back. Some words I still couldn’t figure out by the context. But I am getting a lot of out this book, learning a lot.

    I put ‘Disobedience’ on my wish list. Thank you, londonchoirgirl

  29. July 12, 2011 9:01 pm

    Good review! I agree with your thoughts. Glad I read it, but not quite a fave. You had me curious now about the part you mentioned from the epilogue. If you think of it and have time, I’d love to know if you’re talking about the part that I’m thinking of! (email: thewindowseatreader at yahoo dot com).

  30. July 12, 2011 9:01 pm

    I hadn’t heard about this book before venturing here. Glad you enjoyed it, Kathy!

  31. redladysreadingroom permalink
    July 12, 2011 9:08 pm

    I have a fondness for Jewish fiction and this sounds like one I would enjoy. I could see that it would be difficult to follow at first if you are unfamiliar with Jewish religion and traditions. Thanks for sharing about reading the end parts first. I will be adding this to my wishlist!

  32. July 12, 2011 10:55 pm

    I do like to read books that teach me about other cultures, but I’m on the fence about this one.

  33. July 13, 2011 9:00 am

    I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile. Sounds like I’d learn something, so maybe I’ll check it out at some point.

  34. stacybuckeye permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:20 am

    Sometimes I read the discussion questions or explanations in the back first. It does tell you more about the story than you probably want to know, but most times it just helps me understand things better as I read.

  35. July 13, 2011 11:02 am

    Nice review. I felt much the same about this book. It won’t be a favorite but I’m glad I read it. I think maybe a glossary might have been helpful too.

  36. July 13, 2011 12:19 pm

    I’ve been hearing mostly mixed opinions about this one. I do want to check it out at some point, but I won’t be rushing to do that.

  37. July 13, 2011 4:38 pm

    i read another review of this one on another blog but don’t think the other blogger was in love, either. i live a few towns away from a huge, ultra-orthodox jewish enclave and find their customs and faith to be very interesting. that said, i don’t think this one is for me–i’m in such a ‘summer reading’ mood–grabbing light and easy stuff until september!

  38. July 13, 2011 5:46 pm

    Sounds like one for my “maybe” stack. If I do decide to read I will take your advice and read the bits at the back to provide myself with a bit more background before I begin reading.

  39. July 13, 2011 7:13 pm

    I enjoyed your honesty and I’ll leave this on the back burner for now.

  40. July 13, 2011 7:34 pm

    great review! sounds like an interesting book and i always love it when a book sticks with you a few days after you finished reading it.

  41. July 13, 2011 8:55 pm

    Thanks for the honest review Kathy! I have a feeling that this would be one that I would enjoy also.

  42. July 14, 2011 9:05 pm

    I love learning about other religions and cultures so I’m looking forward to reading this one. I have a Kindle version courtesy of Net Galley so I hope the back pages are there with the author’s note and I will remember to read that first!!

  43. July 14, 2011 11:15 pm

    There’s definitely something to be said for any book that stays on your mind for several days!

  44. July 15, 2011 1:06 am

    I too did not love it, but I did enjoy learning about the history of palestine. I am Jewish myself and wanted to learn differences of American and Israeli traditions of Jew. As I was reading the book, and I told Talia, it would have been nice to have a glossary for Jewish and Yiddish words used, especially for people that are unaware of hebrew and yiddish words. Glossary explaining the traditions. I hope to listen to book club girls program. I have my review posted on my site if you are interested.

  45. July 15, 2011 1:08 am

    I too did not love it, but I did enjoy learning about the history of palestine. I am Jewish myself and wanted to learn differences of American and Israeli traditions of Jew. As I was reading the book, and I told Talia, it would have been nice to have a glossary for Jewish and Yiddish words used, especially for people that don’t have any Jewish background. I hope to listen to book club girls program. I have my review posted on my site if you are interested.

  46. July 15, 2011 8:18 pm

    This book sounds like it’s right up my alley, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  47. July 16, 2011 7:19 am

    I really enjoyed your review and have put this on my Kindle to be read.

    Thanks
    Cathy

  48. July 18, 2011 11:39 pm

    This really sounds like a worthwhile read. I don’t know much at all about Judaism or Israel during this time period and would probably love this book for that aspect alone. I am also fascinated by the religion vs. self desire theme of the book. As someone who is not particularly religious at all, I always find this conflict to be a bit difficult to understand, but at the same time I am fascinated by it.

  49. July 19, 2011 6:51 pm

    Thanks for the honest review. I’ve been curious about this one and missed the blog tour. I think I still want to read it though!
    2 Kids and Tired Books

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