I cried near the end. I don’t do that too often with novels anymore, so that was a nice surprise. The story carries the reader through to the conclusion with no break in the action. I liked the main character, despite some of her foolish teenage decisions.
The story of Esther, living in Jerusalem in the early 1900s, takes us into the lives of the Jewish people adhering to strict rules at a time when the plight of the women was to have as many children as possible to provide more Jews to populate the area. Esther rebels against such a future, wanting to be an artist after realizing her talent. Through a series of adventures, she gives up her art work, marries, has children and finds her love of painting again, only to have it, once more, vanish from her life. We live through the heart-wrenching choices she makes and wonder if we would do the same.
We watch her grow from a young rebellious woman in Israel to a married, mature rebellious adult in Paris. We smell the odors, see the sights, hear the sounds, taste the foods and touch the fabrics she so loves, as the novel becomes a sensory experience into her two worlds.
We sympathize with this young woman who questions her faith and its strict rules, wondering what God wants her to do and not accepting the rules that are imposed. We learn about the Jewish customs and traditions of this time when women were held hostage to a male-dominated culture. Esther tries doing the right thing and not following the heat of her passion; she tries to honor the religious beliefs that she loves, until it is too late to resist. There is joy, there is sorrow. We remember how difficult it has been for women even as late as the early 20th century who wanted to pursue their own passions and how difficult it has been for women to choose between a religious belief and a personal destiny. Esther reminds us of those choices, good and bad. And yes, the role of religion is also good and bad.
We watch the progress in history as religions and cultures change to allow a woman to be a voice. As I read this, I wondered at the next step in women’s evolution. Will we one day be the ones to choose and decide. We believe we have achieved that now, but I often wonder as I remember how it was and observe how this is still a man’s world.
I’m reminded, as I get older, of the choices I made, the ones where I walked away from temptations and feel good about that now. I have few regrets. Perhaps I was lucky. And you?