The Weight of Ink: Book summary and reviews of The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

The Weight of Ink

by Rachel Kadish

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2017
    592 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

An intellectual, suspenseful, and entertaining page-turner, The Weight of Ink tells the story of two remarkable women separated by three centuries, the ambition that connects them, and the power of the written word. It's a jigsaw puzzle of a novel, perfect for readers of A. S. Byatt's Possession and Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book.

Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. 

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents' scribe, the elusive "Aleph." 

Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order reconcile the life of the heart and mind.  

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This astonishing third novel from Kadish (after From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied) introduces readers to the 17th-century Anglo-Jewish world with not only excellent scholarship but also fine storytelling. The riveting narrative and well-honed characters will earn a place in readers' hearts." - Library Journal

"Clocking in at almost 600 pages, the novel could have used a judicious pruning to highlight the intellectual game of cat and mouse that plays out across four centuries. Still, Kadish's characters are memorable, and we're treated to a host of them: pious rabbis and ribald actors, socialites and troubled young men, Mossad agents and rule-worshipping archivists. From Shakespeare's Dark Lady to Spinoza's philosophical heresies, Kadish leaves no stone unturned in this moving historical epic. Chock-full of rich detail and literary intrigue." - Kirkus

"Like A.S. Byatt's Possession and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, this emotionally rewarding novel follows the familiar pattern of present-day academics trying to make sense of a mystery from the past." - Publishers Weekly

"Kadish has fashioned a suspenseful literary tale that serves as a compelling tribute to women across the centuries committed to living, breathing, and celebrating the life of the mind." - Booklist

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Reader Reviews

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Michelle M. (W. Warwick, RI)

The Weight of Ink
The Weight of Ink.
The title of this book seduced me from the start. I was immediately drawn in by the discovery of the hidden cache of 17th century papers under the staircase and the ensuing investigation into who the scribe "Aleph" really was. At times I felt as if I were being physically jerked out of one time period and plunged into the next because I would become so wrapped up in the tale at that particular moment and I wasn't quite ready to time travel just yet.

I think that's a testament to the brilliance of Kadish's writing. I could envision certain scenes with such clarity, whether it was the tiny room with the hearth where the Rabbi would dictate his letters to Ester, his Scribe, or the rough streets of the Jewish community as the Plague encroached; the sights, the sounds, the SMELLS, Kadish transported me across the centuries to walk those cobblestoned streets alongside Ester, especially when she would visit the book-filled street stalls or go to the bookbinders!

Sure, there were moments when I thought the book was growing ever larger even as I was reading it(!), but in hindsight, in my opinion anyway, there isn't much you could strip away without affecting the overall atmosphere and power of the story. Ester's character is extremely intelligent. She's a survivor. Imagine not being able to pursue your love of reading/writing simply because you're a woman? Unimaginable! Helen Watt, the professor, seems a not-so-lovable curmudgeon but we discover there's more to her than meets the eye as her relationship with her assistant, Aaron Levy, unfolds during the investigation and we also learn why she has that sketch of Masada on her office wall.

This was a thoroughly engrossing read. I really loved this book, however, the ending left me wanting; a little sad, maybe a little anticlimactic because I was expecting (hoping) for a somewhat different finish. Or maybe it was just that I finished it bleary-eyed at 3am and had to be in work in a few hours. But isn't that the time most of us finish the books we enjoy the most?

Ann D. (Clearfield, PA)

The Title Sold Me
The Weight of Ink is a book that found me. I was looking for the book that would draw me in at page one and keep me riveted the whole way through...it did. Rachel Kadish is an incredible writer, who after 560 pages left me wanting more. Each character was so believable, their voices so distinct, that I was sure that they were real. I would recommend this book to every lover of literature.

Kate S. (Arvada, CO)

Love the title and the book!
The Weight of Ink was a treat to read. The writing was lovely. So detailed; I felt like I was walking in the streets of London in 1665! The characters were well developed and it worked going back and forth from the two time periods (which does not always work in books).

So much to discuss, it would be a perfect book club selection. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

Colleen A. (Rome, GA)

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
If you like a novel that encompasses richly drawn characters and a historical mystery, you will enjoy this book as I did. As for the style, both the 1660 narrative, as well as the 2000 storyline are equally compelling. Ester's restricted role as a woman, the confines of the Jewish community and the horrors of the Plague are examples of how descriptive writing transports the reader to everyday life in 1665 London. Over three hundred years later, even though they posses more freedom, Helen and Aaron mull over their inner thoughts, fears and actions. They face restraints of a modern nature. Whenever a book makes me curious enough about a subject to do more research, it has a lot to recommend it. This novel is a great reminder of the legacy of the written word, ink on paper.

Ilyse B. (Howell, NJ)

Great Historical Fiction
The Weight of Ink was a wonderful historical novel. It was obvious that the author did a tremendous amount of research into her subject and she was able to present this information in a story that moved along at a brisk pace. There were two timelines in this story, and as is not always the case, both were interesting and held my attention. Would recommend this for anyone who likes to feel as if they have been transported to another time and place in their reading.

Therese X. (Calera, AL)

Pen and Paper Speaking Volumes
This novel begins as a modern story but its roots are deep in the seventeenth century. While the Eastons are renovating their newly-inherited four hundred year old house in London, an electrician uncovers handwritten documents under an old carved staircase. He assumes the writing is Arabic and fearing a far-fetched terrorist plot, he stops his work until it is officially resolved, not realizing the papers are dated three hundred years ago. Ian Easton knows the writing is Hebrew and assumes some are in "Spanish" (actually Portuguese) and contacts his former professor, Helen Watt, who specializes in historical documents, particularly the London Jewish community at the time of the Great Plague (1665-66).

What begins as a routine verification turns into a deep investigation of the Jewish migration via Amsterdam to London after The Inquisition in Portugal. One rabbi, HaCoen Mendes escaped although blinded and hired a scribe named Aleph to record his religious knowledge and experiences. But who was Aleph, the diligent and elegant scribe? Helen Watt is the perfect "investigator" to unravel the mysterious documents, but she needs the help of a younger graduate student, Nathan Levy, who is fluent in Hebrew and Portuguese of this time period and very adept on a computer. Although not Jewish herself, Helen has a history of her own which reaches as far as Masada.

The Weight of Ink portrays a history of the London Jewish community and their social times and traditions in an engrossing mystery tale and how the Jewish people struggled to carry their history with them to a new land. Highly recommended.

...14 more reader reviews

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Rachel Kadish is the author, most recently, of the novel Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story. Among her many honors are a Koret Award, a Pushcart Prize, and citations in the 1997 and 2003 editions of The Best American Short Stories. Her work has been published in Zoetrope: All-Story, Tin House, Story, Bomb, Moment, Sh'ma, Congress Monthly, and Lilith. Kadish, a graduate of Princeton University, earned her MA in fiction writing at New York University. She lives in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

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