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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish


The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

The Weight of Ink is a character-driven historical novel whose intricate plot calls to mind such authors as A. S. Byatt (The Possession), Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book) and Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch).

In it, the period of the 1660s London is flawlessly interwoven with the year 2000—the year that 2 researchers come upon a treasure trove of documents found under a staircase in a 300 year old house. Helen Watt, an aging and crusty professor of history, and Aaron Levy, a young and impertinent graduate student, are thrown together as they solve the mystery of a scribe whose pen name is Aleph. Aleph (Ester Velasquez) came to London from Amsterdam in the early 1660s after the death of her parents. London, under Cromwell, just allowed Jews back into the city after a 300 year expulsion. Ester comes to live with her former tutor, Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, and she writes the letters he dictates to her. The plot of the book is interwoven with such historic events as The Great Plague of London and The Great Fire of London as well as the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi-the false Jewish Messiah. Moreover, Baruch Spinoza, whose views on God served to excommunicate him, is integral to the plot.

A number of the characters really existed and are interspersed with purely fictional ones. Ester Velasquez as well as the rabbi for whom she scribes, did not exist. Josephine Livingstone, in an article in The New Republic (May 31, 2017), cites the book’s style to other works of “historiographic metafiction.” “Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They happily exploit real events and the lives from the past, unconcerned with to-the-letter accuracy.”

The Weight of Ink is a unique book that took its author a decade to research and write. Its passages are so evocative that the reader is completely transported to the 17th century. The reader is also drawn into lives of the two researchers. Past and present come to a stunning head at the end of this 600 page pièce de résistance


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