Jerusalem Maiden a novel

by Talia Carner

Book, 2011



Call number




New York : Harper, c2011.


"Talia Carner is a skillful and heartfelt storyteller who takes the reader on journey of the senses, into a world long forgotten." --Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbird "Exquisitely told, with details so vivid you can almost taste the food and hear the voices....A moving and utterly captivating novel that I will be thinking about for a long, long time." --Tess Gerritsen, author of The Silent Girl "Talia Carner's story captivates at every level, heart and mind." --Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean The poignant, colorful, and unforgettable story of a young woman in early 20th-century Jerusalem who must choose between her faith and her passion, Jerusalem Maiden heralds the arrival of a magnificent new literary voice, Talia Carner. In the bestselling vein of The Red Tent, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Jerusalem Maiden brilliantly evokes the sights and sounds of the Middle East during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Historical fiction and Bible lovers will be captivated by this thrilling tale of a young Jewish woman during a fascinating era, her inner struggle with breaking the Second Commandment, and her ultimate transcendence through self-discovery.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member speedy74
Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner encompasses two themes I find very interesting—women’s rights and the role of women in religion. These two reasons alone would make this book an interesting read for me, but Jerusalem Maiden was so much more. I found it easy to identify with Esther Kaminsky, the
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main character, despite the fact that I have lived my life in another time and place and in another religion entirely. Her struggle to balance love of God, family, and career is something many modern women experience on a daily basis.
Set in the early 1900’s as the Ottoman Empire begins to crumble, Esther is faced with becoming a young wife whose role will be to cook, clean, and have children, while inwardly she yearns to pursue her artistic talent and create what her ultraorthodox Jewish community identifies as “graven images.” Throughout the book, Esther struggles with the expectations of others and her passion for art.
A beautifully written novel full of period details and information about the Haredi Jews, the conditions of Jews under the Ottoman Empire, and the world of art in Paris during the 1920’s. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
This new novel by Talia Carner begins in Jerusalem in 1911. Esther Kaminsky is being raised in the Haredi community of Me'a She'arim. She is expected to marry young, give birth to many children, be a dutiful wife and thereby hasten the coming of the Messiah. Quite a responsibility!

While Esther
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loves her family, she also is a gifted artist. Any profession is forbidden to her by her community and family. Art, in particular, is fraught with danger due to the Commandment not to make graven images. Esther's French teacher, Mlle. Thibaux has recognized her talent and is secretly giving her art lessons. When tragedy strikes Esther's family, she feels it her fault because she has been disobedient.

And that is the puzzle of Esther's life. Should she deny her talent and bow to the wishes of her community? Or can she free herself and recognize that God has given her a special talent and the sin would be wasting the gift? There is no one in Esther's life who can provide her with guidance, and so she struggles.

Jerusalem Maiden is a lovely book. It is well-researched, and Carner understands what life is like for the Haredi community. They are truly learned in the Torah and the Talmud, yet are otherwise beset by poverty and ignorance. They subsist on the charity of the Jews of the world, yet condemn them for their lack of righteousness and adherence to God's word (as the Haredi interpret it!). This dichotomy continues today.

I highly recommend Jerusalem Maiden. Many thanks again to the LibraryThing EarlyReviewer program for sending me this book.
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LibraryThing member Abi516
I received an advance copy of Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel, by Talia Carner as an Early Reviewers book. The story, about a young ultra-orthodox Jewish woman at the beginning of the 20th century, sounded like it would be right up my alley.

Esther is born into poverty and upheaval in Jerusalem. She
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struggles with her religion and her responsibilities as a female as part of her family and faith. This part I enjoyed as I could imagine the situation. However, I had a hard time with the believability factor of some events in the book... in spite of her ultra conservative heritage and family, she seems to be permitted to run around the city unsupervised quite a lot. The fact that she was given a more advanced education than most Jewish girls and specifically intensive lessons in french? I don' t know much about orthodox Judaism or the culture of that place and time, but it seemed a little far fetched.

Beyond that, however, I thought it was an interesting read, and certainly has piqued my curiosity about Judaism. While I doubt it is an accurate reflection of the life of your average Jewish girl, it did stir up some thought, which as an avid reader, is most important to me.

I don't know that I would put this book on my "highly recommended" list, but I did find it to be an interesting and enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member Tricoteuse
This book is the story of a woman's life, and her relationships with god, her community, her family, and her art. it was a fascinating look at a time and place that I didn't know much about, but beyond that it was just an excellent book. The writing was wonderful, and the characters fascinating. I
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would have loved to have learned more about any of them. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled with competing obligations to family, faith, and self.
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LibraryThing member hollysing
Thank you to LibraryThing for providing this Early Reviewer book. I look forward to reading and reviewing Jerusalem Maiden.
LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Kind of boring, kind of by the numbers story about Esther, an ultra-Orthodox girl rebelling against her strict religious upbringing. It's ok if you like light historical fiction; fans of RASHI'S DAUGHTERS would enjoy it though it's nowhere near as good as those books. I didn't finish it but I read
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enough to get a sense. It wasn't interesting enough for me to finish it but I'd still feel comfortable recommending it to those with a strong interest in Jewish fiction.
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LibraryThing member JessiAdams
I'll first start by saying that I received this book as Early Reviewers book, so I thank the publisher and Library Thing for the opportunity to read the book. Although I didn't end up enjoying the book, I always appreciate the opportunity to read something new.

Jerusalem Maiden is a story of a
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young, ultra-orthodox Jewish woman in the beginning of the 1900's. Forbidden to paint by her religion, she goes through religious and emotional turmoil because of it. The book follows her life as she is married off at a young age to a man her family scorns, but viewing her as damaged goods anyway, it matters little to them. Eventually (but not until well after 75% of the book) she travels to Paris, meets her childhood painting instructor, and tries to confront the big questions about who she is.

When you describe it that way, it sounds like a pretty good book. In reality, I found it to be infuriating. The main character, Esther, lives the entire book inside her head, which is a confusing place to be, to say the least. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of the readers of this book are not going to be overly familiar with Orthodox Jewish beliefs and customs, I'm certainly not. In the book, the main character spends a lot of time agonizing about a belief system which is only explained in bits and pieces. This makes the story a little difficult to connect with. I would have loved to learn more about her unique community and religious beliefs, but it just wasn't given. Most of the plot only relates to Esther's pain over her belief that she's violated religious doctrine that isn't really explained.

If that wasn't bad enough, you have to follow her back and forth, pingponging logic about her religious beliefs. She paints, then feels guilty about painting, then tragedy strikes. In her mind, the misbehavior directly caused God to punish her with family tragedy. Some time goes by, and her family wants her to marry. She doesn't want to marry, so of couse when something else happens, then that is also punishment for her supposed sin of not wanting to get married.

This continues in a predictable way throughout the book. Her less than perfect relationship with her daughter must be punishment for not wanting to get married and have children in the first place. Her husband's distance is punishment for having an orgasm, and so on and so forth.

The only time when her thought process changes is when she goes to Paris toward the end of the novel. At that point, it does a complete 180. Almost overnight she changes to the belief that God wants her to be happy in Paris, with new clothes, a new boyfriend, and free of her husband and children. I actually found her to be more real and sympathetic in the last leg of the book, and was disappointed that it took so long for me to care. I would have liked to know what she was experiencing after she eventually returned home to her husband and children, but that information is only glanced at, second-hand in the epilogue.

Overall, I just couldn't get interested in the main character's constant agonizing about her religious beliefs. 2 and a 1/2 stars.
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
Jerusalem Maiden was not at all what I expected. I think after reading some fairly heavy Jewish stories in the last year I was expecting another similar to those, but instead got a very approachable, easy to read story about a young Jewish girl pre-WWI.

This isn't a bad thing though. I'm familiar
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with some Jewish traditions and rituals, but this book took them all to a new level with the strictness Esther and her family lived by those rules. Just being kosher wasn't even - but being raised, as a female, to be the "salvation" of the Jewish race and having all that weight put on you - I can't even imagine.

I did struggle with the book a bit, and I can't really recommend this book to those who are looking for a more religious themed novel due to some rather graphic sexual scenes and choices made by Esther. In a way, the story reminded me of another of my favorites, A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka, except this story lacked the charm and fairy-tale like quality that book had, which made it seem more heavy.

I found Esther's story to be a tragic one and, while I wasn't sorry to see the story come to an end (it was just really depressing), I am glad I read this book just for the information I received about a time I really haven't read that much about and a sect of the Jewish people I knew very little about.
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LibraryThing member jasminemarie
I really enjoyed this book. A very interesting read about women and the role of religion in their lives. I highly recommend it to others!
LibraryThing member Carolee888
I love the writing style of the author, the story was extremely interesting and I learned so much about Haredi Judaism during that time period. The writing seemed slow at the beginning but my interest in the main character, Esther Kaminsky kept me turning the pages. I was entranced from the first
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When the story opens, Esther is a young girl living in Jerusalem in the most conservative of ultra-orthodox communities of Haredi Judaism in 1911. The book’s dedication is to another Esther, the grandmother of the author. When I finished this book I was so full of questions. So I searched for an interview with the author and found an excellent on Blog Talk Radio. I highly recommend listening to that interview after reading the book because you may have nagging questions too.

Esther was supposed to marry young and bear children, nothing else. There is quite a bit of suffering in the book but the women were supposed to bare it because accepting the sorrow and bad living conditions was supposed to bring the Messiah sooner. But Esther had a talent that was forbidden to be used in Haredi Judaism. It all depends on how the Second Commandment is interpreted. This is a very controversial commandment if you research it.

Esther’s talent provides one of the biggest conflicts for her. Should she remain to true to God as seen through her upbringing or give in to her yearning to be an artist? Esther is constantly struggling, and just when you then she had made a decision, something happens and she is thrown back into her turmoil.

This book is extremely well researched and although I knew something about Judaic traditions, I did not know anything about Haredi Judaism traditions or particular religious beliefs. You could taste the food prepared with her description, know where you are by the sounds of the city or town, easily imagine the main characters and even smell the fragrant flowers or the smell of sweat.

The only thing that bothered me besides the slow beginning was the radical shift in behavior of the main character. I wondered if she would really do what she did. I still have not decided.

I recommend to anyone interested in historical fiction.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program, but that did not influence my thoughts for this review in any way.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
I did not care much for the very plain writing, but this book did get me thinking. It showed me how a person can attribute any events she chooses to G-d's will, and that was an insight I appreciated. I also was pleased with the ending proving that many adjust to whatever is necessary.
LibraryThing member Rdra1962
This is a very beautifully written book about the little known sect of Jews who lived in Israel during the Ottoman Empire. They are almost cult like in the orthodoxy. Quite frankly I usually avoid books like this because reading about ultra-orthodox religions of any kind annoy and infuriate me.
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Inevitably woman are subjugated, people are encouraged never to think for themselves, and irrational "laws" govern behaviour, often to horrible results.

In this case the writing was so good that I was somewhat able to shelve my personal emotions about religion from the equation and just delve into the characters and their lives.This is a novel that came from the author's family history as well as a great deal of research. Having read Carner's blog further enhanced my enjoyment of the novel.
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LibraryThing member mearias
Jerusalem Maiden was a book chosen by a friend for a book club reading.

The book is the coming of age story of Esther Kaminsky. She is a young Haredi girl, a Jerusalem Maiden; who's life is pre-ordained, because she is one of the Chosen by Hashem to help in the bringing of the Messiah and the help
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of the entire Jewish nation. The laws governing the Haredi are extremely strict: no images can be reproduced, no music, no dancing... There are laws to govern all. Her primary "job" as a Jewess is to get married, produce children and work to support her husbands yeshiva study. This is non-negotiable.

The book begins with Esther in her French teacher's home, where she's learning Art. Her struggle to be the self she wants to be and the self that society (or her klal) wants her to be are the very first paragraphs of this book. We first see her as a young girl with a gift of art. She is learning of color and the combination of different colors to make new, different and more rich colors. She is drawing a gecko, but knows that there are laws that forbid the drawing of Hashem's creatures. She is committing a sin by drawing this gecko. This is the set up of Esther's life. The fight between what is in her heart and the religion is she is born under.

Her life is extremely difficult and the choices she makes, make life that much more difficult. Very early on she recognizes her "calling" to be an artist, but this conflicts with what she understands her role in life to be. Esther, to me, was extremely difficult to like. She is by turns, convinced of this calling to be an artist (and she is an extremely gifted artist); and will switch in a heartbeat to the laws governing what a Haredi girl should be. She never makes a decision for herself. She is constantly waiting for Hashem to speak to her through "signs". Except that she is capricious in what she thinks these "signs" are, or what they mean.

She stands in her own way all the time. There are those that are willing to help her, but she is contrary to everyone. If the person is asking to help her be an artist, she wants only to be a Haredi girl. If they want her to be a Haredi girl, she wants to be an artist. She makes a decision to escape, a "sign" will appear and she must stay. She makes decision to stay, a "sign" will appear and she must go. She was extremely frustrating to me to sympathize for her. There were moments that were difficult, and being a parent and a woman, I can understand. There were more moments, however, that I simply did not like her.

I can never speak to the religious pressure she was under. There are, however, expectations that we all are born into. There are expectations that all parents have for their children; that society has for it's people and for their women. I also can't speak to having this gift of a calling (this Primordial Light) that Esther had. But there are things about myself that are true no matter what. I found her to be so different to me, that I felt no common bond with her. As women we all struggle with choices about what is best for us and how will we fit into society. I feel, however, that we must make the decision. We must choose the path we want to take. As hard as it may be, waiting for someone to guide you, or make decisions for you seems self defeating. I could not respect the choices made by Esther.

I felt most touched by Ruthi (and most saddened by her ending).

This was a frustrating read for me. I felt bad for everyone, and helpless about the life the Haredi women have to lead, but then this is their religion. How can you feel bad for that? Faith is difficult and I shouldn't judge someone else's faith; however, I found it foreign and sad. It is a thought provoking book. I just wish I had connected more to Esther.
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LibraryThing member fglass
Jerusalem Maiden

In “Jerusalem Maiden” we are taken into the Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem in the early twentieth century. Our interpreter, in this foreign environment, is a very young girl, Esther. We see her world through the restrictions that guide and threaten her as she
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reaches out to explore who she is.

I am reminded of another Jewish coming-of-age story, “The Chosen”, written by Chaim Potok. His story is set in a Hasidic community, which is another Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. “The Chosen” is set in Brooklyn, NY in the 1940s. In this story we find a young man, Danny, who has expectations and restrictions thrust on him by his Hasidic community.

Both Danny and Esther are drawn by their natures to find a new way to become their true selves without losing family and community where they were brought up. In these two stories, there are differences in geographic locations and time periods, as well as Jewish communities – Haredi vs. Hasidic; and, there is the fact that one protagonist is female and the other is male. Can a child succeed under any of these circumstances?

In both Jewish communities women were seen as adjuncts to their men. Danny’s mother, although in charge of the same household and childbearing duties as Esther ‘s mother, was married to the leading rabbi of the Hasidic community. This man understood, no matter how different Danny’s new path, if he did not give his son the “wiggle room”, he would lose Danny all together, and despite the Hasidic teachings, he was not willing to lose his child.

In the Haredi community of “Jerusalem Maiden”, Esther’s mother (with the help of two daughters) was worn away by her endless washing, scrubbing, cooking, and childbearing. She was a portent for Esther of what her future would be. Esther’s father required her strict obedience giving more import to his religious rules than to his daughter’s talents and needs. He allowed Esther no “wiggle room”. How Esther realizes some of her dreams: therefore, is quite a tale.
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Original publication date



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