Hadassah Hawaii On the Same Page Book Club
Thursday, May 20 at 1:00 PM HST
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Online discussion and art tour led by Hannah Slovin and Andrea Synder
RSVP to email@example.com or contact Andrea at 808-265-3559 by 5/19, free to attend.A message from the author:
"Ester is fictitious, but every piece of her story is factually plausible. What I was after wasn’t false feminist heroism but instead one grounded in fact; I wanted readers to imagine with a degree of certainty that women like Ester—women of capacious intelligence who tried to speak out despite restrictions—must have existed.
To argue that something can’t have happened because it was forbidden is to ignore one of the basic rules of human nature: people try to do like the grass—they try to grow up through the pavement. Most don’t succeed, but some do. When history puts a foot on people’s necks, they break rules….We call that surviving". (From the Paris Review)
Ideas for the discussion:
1. In The Weight of Ink, character Helen says, “This is not a Jewish story. This story, whatever it proves to be, belongs to all of us.” Do you think this statement applies to the book? Why or why not?
2. What does the title, “The Weight of Ink” mean to the characters? What does it mean to you?
3. What choices and sacrifices do the women of the novel make? Do you think these are choices that women still face today? What can we learn from this book about how women in different historical periods have grappled with gender expectations?
4. What is the purpose of history, according to Helen and Aaron? Why do they study history? What does it offer them?
5. Many of the characters in the book feel tremendous passion and desire—sometimes for people and sometimes for ideas. What is the relationship in this novel between love of ideas and romantic love?
6. The tension between the willingness to sacrifice oneself and the will to live arises repeatedly in the novel. How do you understand these warring impulses? Is one more noble to you? If so, which one? How might gender influence these impulses?
7. Why is uncovering Ester’s story so important to Helen and Aaron? What new perspectives and insights are revealed when they learned the true identity of Aleph?
8. The author paints detailed descriptions of everyday life in 17th century London. The images are exquisite—the clothing, the smells, life in the streets of London, the abrupt differences once you reach the outskirts of the city, the plague and the persecution. How did the impact of these vivid images affect your reaction to the story?
9. Shakespeare is an unseen character who is nevertheless present throughout the book. In what ways does Shakespeare play a role in the story?
10. Ester grows up in a community of Portuguese Inquisition refugees who are fiercely focused on ensuring their safety in the “New Jerusalem” of Amsterdam; they place great importance on reviving Jewish learning and they give their harshest punishment to Spinoza for his heretical pronouncements. When Helen goes to Israel, she encounters Holocaust survivors struggling with the legacy of their losses and the need to establish safety in their new home. In what ways are these communities similar, and in what ways are they different?