First, I’ll quote the blurb from Amazon, and then give my own response to this outstanding book.
Here’s the blurb:
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
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.
And now for my own response.
I have not read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, to which this book has been compared, so I don’t know whether it’s a fair comparison. But I do know that Rachel Kadish has her own distinctive voice. This is the first novel of hers I’ve read and I definitely want to read her others.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like the plot device of writing simultaneously about two women separated by over three hundred years, but I quickly got used to it and found the two parallel stories fascinating and compelling. It was rather like watching a mystery unfold from both ends, hoping that eventually the stories would meet in the middle. Of course, they did, but the ending was not predictable.
The 17th century English history seems very well done. I love history but I’m not well versed in this period; however, it seems authentic to me. And the writing style was very polished and intelligent. It required some effort from me, and I appreciated that. I’ve noticed that very few of the books I find memorable have been effortless reads.
This is only the second book I’ve finished so far this year, but I think it’s going to be one of my favourites. I highly recommend it.