Sunday, February 24, 2013
E-Reading Book Review of #2 Miriam by Maggie Anton
Author: Maggie Anton
Part of a Series: Rashi's Daughters
Type of book: 1078-1089, France, nobility, Talmud, homosexuality, breaking gender roles, wines, Salomon, marriage, widowed, soul mate, Jewish life, birth control, superstitions
Year it was published: 2007
The engrossing historical series of three sisters living in eleventh-century Troyes, France, continues with the tale of Miriam, the lively and daring middle child of Salomon ben Isaac, the great Talmudic authority. Having no sons, he teaches his daughters the intricacies of Mishnah and Gemara in an era when educating women in Jewish scholarship was unheard of. His middle daughter, Miriam, is determined to bring new life safely into the Troyes Jewish community and becomes a midwife. As devoted as she is to her chosen path, she cannot foresee the ways in which she will be tested and how heavily she will need to rely on her faith. With Rashi?s Daughters, author Maggie Anton brings the Talmud and eleventh-century France to vivid life and poignantly captures the struggles and triumphs of strong Jewish women.
The characters were well written and they do change somewhat. Some are memorable, while I couldn't understand others' minor characters role in the book. The women are strong, and two of the sisters kind of assume slightly "masculine" occupations of doing circumcisions, or dealing with money lending and traveling. The men do depend on women. There is also superstition as in the previous novel. I'm not sure what else to say about the characters.
I'm not sure there was a direct message in the book, unless one counts the homosexuality. I had a difficult time understanding that issue though.
This is written in third person narrative from what seems to be everyone's point of view. This is more tightly woven and takes us from 1078 up until 1089 and deals with issues of women and circumcision, Talmud discussions, politics which don't seem to be well integrated or well woven, and seemed to me as something that was forced to be discussed instead of something flawlessly woven. (I'll put it in there because its a historical novel is the impression I had of it.) It also dealt with running estate and presented Jews from different walks of life before Crusades and church destroyed that. This does give hints of anti-Judaism in the book, at least by christian neighbors around the time of Passover as I recall.
in Los Angeles, CA, The United States
Historical Fiction, Religion & Spirituality, Women & Gender Studies
About this author:
Maggie Anton was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, California. Raised in a secular, socialist household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. All that changed when David Parkhurst, who was to become her husband, entered her life, and they both discovered Judaism as adults. That was the start of a lifetime of Jewish education, synagogue involvement, and ritual observance. In 2006, Anton retired from being a clinical chemist in Kaiser Permanente's Biochemical Genetics Laboratory to become a fulltime writer.
In the early 1990's, Anton learned about a women's Talmud class taught by Rachel Adler, now a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Nearly every Wednesday for five years, she and about six other women met around Rachel's dining room table to study Tractate Berachot.
In 1997, as her children Emily and Ari left the house and her mother was declining with Alzheimer's Disease, Anton sought new interests. She became intrigued with the idea that Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever, had no sons, only three daughters. Slowly but surely, she began to research the family and the time in which they lived. Much was written about Rashi, but almost nothing of the daughters, except their names and the names of their husbands. Legend has it that Rashi's daughters were learned in a time when women were traditionally forbidden to study the sacred texts. These forgotten women seemed ripe for rediscovery, and the idea of a book about them was born.
This is better written when comparing it to the author's first book, which had a Little House appeal for Jewish readers. Yet its still charming and whatnot as you see the differences between Jewish view of life vs christian view of life. I was a little disturbed by the homosexuality issue from one of the characters and couldn't help but wonder if the author advocated that a person must be married no matter the orientation or if there was something else I was missing. I also thought the characters were too numerous and wished that there was a list of the characters and brief functions so I could know who the secondary characters are: that is, I know who Miriam, Joheved, Meir, Salomon, Judah and few others are, but I had a hard time recalling the secondary characters, and at one point I thought that Marona was Judah's mother when in fact she had no relation to him at all! Of course, the book does have fascinating Talmudic discussions too, but you need to read the first book before reading one, else it might not make a lot of sense to you.
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)