The Weight of Ink is a historical novel expertly written by Rachel Kadish. An ageing professor, Helen, is called upon a seventeenth-century house to evaluate a Genizah found hidden in a stairwell. With a help of young, stuck-in-an-academic-rut scholar, Aaron, Helen enters the undiscovered history of London’s Jewish communities, from a woman scribe to a rabbi. The novel captures as it unearths history and human condition, and it holds a few surprises for the reader.
Helen’s findings follow the coming of age of Ester in mid-seventeenth-century London’s Jewish community. It’s Ester’s first time out of hiding following the change in the country’s ruling powers. However, interestingly, Kadish introduces the noughties perspective on the story as well. In a time and place when being a woman from a minority community, and being a foreigner in a world that was still a closed entity, the story of Ester is an empowering glimpse into a world largely unknown in historical fiction writing. Ester is a woman, who questions old teaching and beliefs in favour of her own opinion and freedom of thought.
Centuries later, Ester’s secrets are unfolded by sheer luck and the wondrous mind of a woman resisting tradition to forge a new path comes back to life. A kinship forms between Helen and Ester, with the former wishing to do one more deed of worth of her own, and Aaron learns the important lessons of humility, patience, and self-worth in the process.
Coming of age or a memorial to a lost history, Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink is a fantastic tale of historical importance. The words flow as if Kadish herself flitted between the pages and placed herself in her characters’ position; whether it was Ester, shackled by tradition she couldn’t agree with; Aaron, the lost scholar with a desire to create something extraordinary, but lacking confidence in his abilities or merit; or Helen, who’s been left with regrets that she has been trying to mend ever since she walked away from her fate for sheer fear of accepting it.
Kadish demonstrates a solid grasp of the history concerning seventeenth-century Jews and tackles the subject with sensitivity and understanding. She brings the tale to the modern age in a fiction that arrests, giving it validity, and enforcing the worth of remembering history beyond the most recent fifty or even hundred years that seem to crowd much of historical fiction of today.
Kadish’s grasp of language, emotive inner explorations, and knowledge of history and religion all intertwine in a powerful read. The Weight of Ink vicariously transports the reader through time, tempering with the concept of analogous understanding of not just real events, but how those were and are felt concurrently.
Reviewed by Aija Oksman