Jerusalem Maiden

( 22 )


In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, a young Orthodox Jewish woman in the holy city of Jerusalem is expected to marry and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah's arrival. While the feisty Esther Kaminsky understands her obligations, her artistic talent inspires her to secretly explore worlds outside her religion, to dream of studying in Paris—and to believe that God has a special destiny for her. When tragedy strikes her family, Esther views it as a warning from an angry God and suppresses her desires...

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In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, a young Orthodox Jewish woman in the holy city of Jerusalem is expected to marry and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah's arrival. While the feisty Esther Kaminsky understands her obligations, her artistic talent inspires her to secretly explore worlds outside her religion, to dream of studying in Paris—and to believe that God has a special destiny for her. When tragedy strikes her family, Esther views it as a warning from an angry God and suppresses her desires in order to become an obedient "Jerusalem maiden."

But when a surprising opportunity forces itself on to her preordained path, Esther finds her beliefs clashing dangerously with the passions she has staved off her entire life—forcing her to confront the most difficult and damning question of all: To whom must she be true, God or herself?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Carner's engaging new novel opens in 1911 in an impoverished Jerusalem, home for many generations to the Kaminsky family, strictly observant Haredi Jews. Men study Torah; women bear children and keep house. On the verge of adulthood, Esther Kaminsky faces a dilemma: pursue art (she has talent) or do what is expected of her? She fantasizes about a full life, where she could marry and make art, but after her mother dies, her father forces her into marrying a "modern Jew" from Jaffa, exiling Esther from the Jerusalem she loves. Forward to 1924 when, after a series of implausible events, Esther ends up alone in Paris, a city the author idealizes to an unrealistic degree. Carner (China Doll), formerly the publisher of Savvy Woman magazine, renders Esther's world with great authority and detail, revealing intimate familial rituals within the larger political and socioeconomic context. But what begins as an earnest story of an introspective girl struggling to interpret God's will resolves disappointingly. The setting, concerns, and frequent Hebrew vocabulary will make this particularly appealing to Jewish readers. (June)
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A fascinating look at a little-known culture and time . . . Tuck JERUSALEM MAIDEN in your beach bag.”
Jewish Book World
“Talia Carner uses beautiful language, exquisite storytelling, and detailed research to transport the reader into the world of old Jerusalem . . . This is a book to savor and discuss.”
Binnie Kirshenbaum
“JERUSALEM MAIDEN is a page-turning and thought-provoking novel. Extraordinary sensory detail vividly conjures another time and place; heroine Esther Kaminsky’s poignant struggle transcends time and place. The ultimate revelation here: for many women, if not most, 2011 is no different than 1911, but triumph is nonetheless possible.”
Jennifer Lauck
“Talia Carner is a skillful and heartfelt storyteller who takes the reader on journey of the senses, into a world long forgotten. Her story of a woman who struggles and seeks the light is universal and inspiring. Read this book and savor.”
Eva Etzioni-Halevy
“JERUSALEM MAIDEN won me over from the first moment I began reading it...meticulously researched, and steeped in thorough knowledge, no less than deep understanding, of both this community and of the world of art in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century... I could not put it down.”
Phyllis Chesler
“JERUSALEM MAIDEN is a novel but the reader feels that she has entered living, lost history. Once engaged, you cannot put this book down . . . [H]eartbreakingly real.”
Michelle Cameron
“[A]n exquisitely explosive journey . . . [JERUSALEM MAIDEN] immerses us in a provocative and astonishingly realized world filled with evil spirits, arranged marriages, prayer, poverty, and the pain of breaking free.”
Tess Gerritsen
“Exquisitely told...a moving and utterly captivating novel that I will be thinking about for a long, long time.”
Margot Livesey
“Esther Kaminsky is a true heroine . . . The truly marvellous thing about JERUSALEM MAIDEN is how deeply Talia Carner is able to evoke Esther’s faith and the complexity of the choices she faces. A beautiful and timely novel.”
Jacquelyn Mitchard
“As bold and fragile as its main character, JERUSALEM MAIDEN is at heart a story of revolution. . . Captivates at every level, heart and mind.”
Maggie Anton
“Compelling ... vividly examines the grinding poverty and oppressive religious domination the heroine suffers in pre-World War I Mea Shearim, and then compares it with the seductive nonconformity she enjoys in the Parisian art world ten years later.”
Vanitha Sankaran
“[A] fascinating story of how a talented, artistic woman from a conservative faith must balance the responsibilities of her heritage against her passions for love and art ... [JERUSALEM MAIDEN] brings an elusive time and place to life and makes you question the strengths of your own beliefs.”
Hassadah Magazine
“A tale spun by a natural storyteller...what is striking is the timelessness and dreamlike quality of her worlds. We are drawn into the saga of Esther kaminsky, the Jerusalem maiden, and stay under her story’s spell until the ambiguously happy end.”
Kirkus Reviews

A young woman struggles against strict Orthodox traditions to realize her inner artist.

Esther Kaminsky, a fictional character based on Carner's grandmother, grows up in aHaredi(Ultra-Orthodox Jewish) compound in Jerusalem during the waning days of Ottoman rule. In part because of the exhortation to be fruitful and multiply, and in part because the men are left mostly free to study Torah, women's work in this crowded enclave is never done. Esther will be married off as soon as her menses begin (an event she postpones by secretly eating special herbs). Mademoiselle Thibaux, a teacher at a local girls' school, encourages Esther to develop her remarkable talent as a painter. However, Esther renounces her artistic yearnings after her mother dies of consumption—obviously a sign from Hashem (God) that Esther offended Him, not only by creating graven images but by stepping outside her circumscribed gender role. When her beloved father condemns her outspokenness, and her best friend, forced into marriage to a brutal man, kills herself, Esther plots to escape. Her musically gifted cousin Asher, also harboring forbidden artistic ambitions, wants her to marry him, so they can flee to Paris and pursue their callings. She agrees but is tricked intowedding Nathan, a wealthy Jaffa merchant. The story jumps ahead 10 years to 1924. Esther, mother of three, is the relatively content wife of Nathan, who is attractive and kind, if a bit stiff. Nonetheless, she still bridles at the restrictions on her life, exacerbated by meddling sisters-in-law. When Esther's disgraced and divorced sister Hanna arrives to help with the children, and Nathan departs on an extended business trip, Esther seizes the opportunity to go to Paris. Will Esther manage to free herself of the prohibitions which she has internalized and achieve artistic expression and true love?Readers will fervently hope so.

A welcome glimpse into a little-understood world.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062004376
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/31/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 341,449
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Talia Carner is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine and a lecturer at international women economic forums.

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Read an Excerpt

Jerusalem Maiden

A Novel
By Talia Carner

Harper Paperbacks

Copyright © 2011 Talia Carner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062004376

Chapter One

September 1911/tishrei 5672

Esther's hand raced over the paper as if the colored pencils
might be snatched from her, the quivering inside
her wild, foreign, thrilling. All this time she hadn't known that
"blue" was actually seven distinct shades, each with its own
name—azure, Prussian, cobalt, cerulean, sapphire, indigo,
lapis. She pressed the waxy pencils on the paper, amazed by the
emerging hues: the ornaments curving on the Armenian vase
were lapis; the purplish contours of the Jerusalem mountains
were shrouded by indigo evening clouds. In this stolen hour at
Mademoiselle Thibaux's dining-room table, she could draw
without being scolded for committing the sin of idleness, God
A pale gecko popped up on the chiseled stone of the
windowsill and scanned the room with staccato movements until
it met Esther's gaze. Her fingers moving in a frenzy, she drew
the gecko's raised body, its tilted head, its dark orbs focused
on her. She studied the translucency of the skin of the valiant
creature that kept kitchens free of roaches. How did God paint
their fragility? She picked up a pink-gray pencil and traced the
fine scales. They lay flat on the page, colorless. She tried the
lightest brown—
Her hand froze. What was she thinking? A gecko was an
idol, the kind pagans worshipped. God knew, at every second,
what every Jew was doing for His name. He observed her now,
making this graven image, explicitly forbidden by the Second
Commandment, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven
image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that
is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
With a jerk of its head, the gecko darted away. Esther stared
at the paper, her hand in midair. She had never imagined a sin
like this.
Mlle Thibaux walked in from the kitchen nook, smiling.
Her skin was smooth, luminous, and her brown hair uncovered,
its coquettish ripples pinned by twin tortoiseshell combs.
She picked up Esther's drawing and examined it. "C'est mer-
veilleux! Quel talent!"
Esther blushed. The praise reflected what Mlle Thibaux's
raised eyebrows had revealed that morning in sixth-grade
French class when she had caught Esther doodling. To Esther's
consternation, her teacher must have detected the insects
hidden inside the branches and leaves. The teacher turned the
page this way and that, and her eyes widened. She then asked
Esther to stay after school, and Esther was certain she would
be ordered to conjugate the verb "to be" hundreds of times
on the blackboard: je suis, tu es, il est, elle est— Instead, Mlle
Thibaux invited her to her apartment at the Hospice Saint Vincent
de Paul, a palace like building with arch fronted wings,
carved colonnaded verandas and balustraded stairwells. The
teacher was a shiksa, a gentile. Newly arrived from Paris, she
probably didn't know that while it wasn't forbidden in Esther's
ultra-Orthodox community to decorate with flourished letters
and ornamental shapes, drawing God's creatures was another
Now, holding Esther's drawing, Mlle Thibaux smiled.
"Here, try mixing these two colors." On a separate page, she
sketched a few irregular lines with a pink pencil, then scattered
some short leaf-green lines in between.
Esther chewed the end of her braid. Fear of God had been
instilled in her with her mother's milk and in the Ten

Commandments tablets displayed everywhere, from her classroom
to the bakery. In addition, the Torah pronounced that
any urge must be suppressed, as it would surely lead to sinning.
The quickening traveling through Esther again proved
that what she was doing was forbidden. Her mother said that
Esther's harshest punishment for sinning would be failure to
become betrothed at twelve, as every good Jerusalem maiden
should upon entering her mitzvah age. Yet, as Mlle Thibaux
handed her the pink and green pencils, Esther silently prayed
for God's forgiveness and recreated the hues inside the gecko's
scales. To her astonishment, they blended as a translucent
A knock sent Mlle Thibaux to the door, her back erect and
proud as no woman Esther had ever known. The teacher
accepted a pail from the water hauler and carried it to the kitchen
while Esther collected the pencils into their tin box.
Outside the window, slicing off the top of the Tower of
David, a cobalt-blue sky hung low on the horizon like a wedding
chupah with a ribbon of magenta underlining it. A flock
of sparrows jostled for footing in the date palm tree, then rose
in a triangular lace shawl formation before settling again. The
warm smell of caramelized sugar wafting from the kitchen
made Esther hungry for tonight's dinner, a leftover Shabbatchallah
dipped in milk and egg, fried and then sprinkled with
sugar. Closing the pencil box, her hand traced its scene of a
boulevard in Paris, lined with outdoor cafés and their dainty,
white, wrought-iron chairs. Women wearing elegant hats and
carrying parasols looped their arms through men's holding
walking sticks, and the open immodesty of the gesture
shocked Esther even as it made something inside her tingle. In
Jerusalem, only Arab men, dressed in their striped pajamas,
idled on low stools in the souk and played backgammon from
sunrise to sunset. Their eyes glazed over as they sucked the
mouthpieces of hoses coiled around boiling tobacco narghiles.
Paris. Esther had never known a girl who traveled, but when
she had been little, her father, her Aba, apprenticed at a bank
in America. It was a disastrous exposure to "others," her
mother, her Ima, said, because it filled his head with reprehensible
new ideas, worse than the simpleton Hassids'. That was
why Aba sent his daughters to a school so elegant that Yiddish
was frowned upon. Most subjects were taught in English, and
Esther mingled there with Sepharadi Jewish girls who spoke
Ladino and Arabic as well as with secular girls—heretic Zionists
all of them, Ima said—who spoke the sacred Hebrew.
"Chérie, will you light the candles?" Mlle Thibaux walked
in from the kitchen nook and placed a silver tea set on a spindle
table covered with a crocheted napkin. The high collar of her
blouse was stiff over starched pleats running down the front to
a cinched waist, but when she moved, her long skirt immodestly
hinted at legs. Had she ever walked in Paris with a man,
daring to loop her arm in his?
Mlle Thibaux smiled. "It's four o'clock—"
Four o'clock? Esther's hand rose to her throat. Ima, who
expected her to attend to her many chores right after classes,
had been laboring alone while Esther was indolent. Ima would
be furious. "I must go home—"
Mlle Thibaux pointed to a plate with slices of glazed cake
sprinkled with shaved almonds and cinnamon. "It's kosher."
"Non, merci. The neighborhood gates will get locked for
the night." Saliva filling Esther's mouth, she gathered her long
plaid skirt and backed toward the door. She had never tasted
a French cake; it had been ages since she had eaten any cake.
But Mlle Thibaux's kitchen was traife, non-kosher. Esther
wouldn't add another sin to her list. "Merci beaucoup!"
She ran out of the apartment, down the two flights of steps,
and across the stone-paved yard to the street facing the Jaffa
Gate in the Old City wall, where camels awaited pilgrims and
Turkish soldiers patrolled. Restless birds chirped in desperation
to find shelter for the night. Wind rustled the tops of the
tall cypresses and whipped fallen leaves into a spin. Maybe it
would rain soon, finally replenishing the dry cistern under her
Running downhill, she turned north, her sandals pounding
the cobblestones. At least she wasn't barefoot as she had
been that morning, putting her sandals on at the gate to Evelina
de Rothschild school to save the soles. She vaulted over
foot-wide sewage channels dug in the center of the alleys.
Then there was the open hill with only rocks and scattered
dry bushes flanking the dirt path grooved by men, carts and
beasts. Climbing fast up the path, she listened for sounds
beyond the trilling of crickets and the buzzing of mosquitoes. In
the descending darkness, a Jewish girl might be dishonored
by a Turkish soldier or murdered by an Arab. Just on the next
hill, the grandfather she had never met had been assassinated
while inspecting land he purchased for the first Jewish neighborhood
outside the Old City.
A scruffy black dog stood on a rock. Esther's heart leaped.
Dogs were despicable creatures; they carried diseases that
made people insane. It growled and exposed yellow-gray
teeth. When Esther swerved out of the path, it gave chase. She
screamed, running faster, the dog barking behind her. She
grabbed the hem of her skirt, and her feet pounded on rocks,
twisting, stumbling. If she tripped, she'd die. Now that the
Ottoman Empire was crumbling and the sultan neglected his
subjects, hungry Jerusalemites ate even rotting scraps of food,
and starving dogs bit people. The Turkish policemen killed
dogs on sight.
Was that the dog's breath on her heels? She gulped air. Her
wet cheeks were cold in the rush of wind. A blister burned
the sole of her foot. The dog must smell her sweat, her fear.
She couldn't outrun it. Her punishment for drawing idols had
come so soon! It had never occurred to her that there could be
a fate worse than Ima's warning about failing to find a groom.
To Esther, that threat had always sounded like a blessing.
Cold pain sliced her rib cage, and her lungs burned. She
could run no more. She stopped. Whirling, she faced the dog,
exposed her teeth and snarled, waving her arms like the mad
girl she'd become if it bit her.
To her amazement, the beast halted. Another snarl rose
from Esther's chest, tearing her throat, and the animal backed
off. She flailed her arms again, and the dog tucked its tail and
slunk away.
Her heart still struggling to escape its confinement, Esther
whispered a prayer of thanks and then fumbled for the amulet
in her pocket to stave off the evil eye. Her pulse drummed in
her ears. She broke into a trot. Five more minutes to Me'ah
She'arim. Her inner thighs chafed over her belted socks, but
stopping wasn't an option. Wicked winds—worse than dogs—
gusted in search of a soul deserving punishment, one that had
defied God.
Panting, Esther was about to enter the tiny kitchen yard
of her home, when she was startled by a movement in
the shadow. Lilith the ghost? It was common knowledge that
she stalked the night. Or what if these were the robbers Ima
fretted about? Or Turkish soldiers raiding the Jewish streets
to kidnap boys for lifelong military ser vice, as Aba feared?
Esther held her breath as if she could become invisible, then
jumped at the screech from the rusty neighborhood iron gate
swinging shut.
A figure stepped into the patch of yard washed by the last
light of dusk: her friend Ruthi.
"You scared me," Esther said in Yiddish, grabbing Ruthi's
hand. "What happened?" She scanned the large rectangle of
communal space created by rows of identical one and two
room houses clinging together like a frightened herd of goats.
Their back walls bordered the thoroughfare to form an impenetrable
blockade. In the center, the oven, the well, the laundry
shed and the outhouses were all dark and silent, as were the
yeshiva and the mikveh. Only the synagogue's windows shone,
where the silhouettes of praying men would sway until the wee
hours as they mourned the destruction of the Temple nineteen
hundred years earlier. "Did someone die?" Esther asked. After
the recent Day of Atonement, God might have struck a wicked
man—or even a seemingly virtuous nursing mother.
"Did you take a ride in Elijah's chariot?" Ruthi asked. A
smile broke on her face and she gushed on. "Guess what? I am
going to be betrothed! Blessed be He."
"And I'm the rabbi marrying you," Esther said in a
ponderous tone and stroked an imaginary beard. She and Ruthi
had made a pact to refuse marriage until they finished school.
She wanted to report about her afternoon at Mlle Thibaux's,
but right now she had to get in the house. Resuming her own
voice, Esther motioned toward her kitchen yard. "Come in. I
have work to do—"
"Well?" Ruthi asked.
"Well what? I'll beat you at hopscotch tomorrow." They
kept a running tally, and that morning Ruthi had taken first
"I can't play. Not now that I'm an adult."
The rising moon illuminated the delicate line of Ruthi's
thin nose and heart-shaped mouth. If she had Mlle Thibaux's
colored pencils now, Esther thought, she would highlight
Ruthi's clear skin with lavender—
"Nu? Well?" Ruthi demanded.
The fact suddenly penetrated Esther's head with the
sounds of the neighbors' clattering pots and pans, the cries
of babies, the scratching of furniture being dragged to make
room for cots, and the angry thumping of Ima's wooden clogs
on the chiseled kitchen floor. "But, but—Miss Landau said we
shouldn't get married before fourteen, or even sixteen—and
you agreed—"
"That's ridiculous. Name one religious girl in school who's
waited that long."
"I will," Esther said, even though Aba often explained that
marriage was the Haredi community's building block, especially
in Jerusalem, the holiest of all cities, where a maiden
carried the promise of perpetuity for all Jews in the entire

"My groom is a biblical scholar," Ruthi said.
"All these yeshiva boochers are afflicted with hemorrhoids
from sitting on hard benches all day and all night."
"I'm serious," Ruthi said. "Marriage will make me important."
The amulet in Esther's pocket felt cold. "You'll work
your fingers to the bone from dawn to midnight, you and the
children starving, barefoot, and living off charity, while he
Ruthi's eyes widened in shock. "It will hasten the Messiah's

Esther knew that her utterings were Zionist blasphemy,
but the subject of betrothal had never hit this close before.
"Do you want to be responsible for the future of all Jews?"
she whispered.
Ruthi stamped her foot. "Just say mazal tov."
A mosquito buzzed near Esther's head. "Who's your
"Yossel." Ruthi's tone turned dreamy. "I hear he's handsome."
Yossel? Esther remembered a short boy with buckteeth.
Ruthi was tall, as gentle as a reed by the Jordan River. Esther
sometimes made her balance a jug on her head so she would
move as gracefully as Rachel had when Jacob spotted her at
the well.


Excerpted from Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner Copyright © 2011 by Talia Carner. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating & Well Written Characters

    Jerusalem Maiden is the third book in a row that I have read that deals with a strong female protagonist. I may be running out of nice things to say about these women and their strength, but I have to say that this story deserves praise. It also happens to be the second story of a female leader set in Israel, but this story is set in more modern times, just after the turn of the century. With that being said the story of these people, the Haredi was really fascinating, and a side of Judaism that I have never really experienced. Esther's struggles were not only with what her family and culture expected, but her own personal beliefs in God, and how they could bring so much heartache as well as joy. There is also a love story that spans decades, but is so unassuming that you really don't see it play a major role until more than halfway through the book. I really liked this because it allowed for Esther's story to be her own, and not center on her relationships. The sacrifices Esther makes over and over in the name of God and for her family are astonishing, and her character is so well written I really wanted there to be more of her story. The author also managed to incorporate one of my other favorite settings: Paris, into Esther's story, so really this novel was a hit with me.

    Reviewed by Gabi for Book Sake.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Excellent read. Very well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Woman Seeks Creative Expression in Orthodox Community

    Can a woman's desire to become an artist in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture of 1911 come true? Having a voice or form of self-expression is a constant struggle for feisty Esther living in the midst of a repressive society. The Haredi community of Jerusalem Maiden allows no independence for women apart from their fathers or husbands. Women are expected to bear children, cook, do laundry and be obedient. Esther anticipates a life of marrying young and having many sons to hasten the arrival of the Messiah. When she discovers her artistic talent, she feels duty bound to suppress it in order to follow God's path as dictated by her religious leaders. Award-winning author, Talia Carter, formerly the publisher of Savvy Woman Magazine, is the author of Puppet Child and China Doll. Ms. Carter is a voice for social issues such as domestic violence and infanticide in China. The book is an excellent mirror of Orthodox Jewish culture in the early twentieth century. Descriptive images abound: fried Shabbat challah sprinkled with sugar, squawking chickens hanging by their feet in the market, hair coated with olive oil then draped over the ears in a braid. Esther struggles throughout the book with her desire to be an artist and the demands placed upon women by the religious community. Her teacher claims art sets a person free. "But that was reserved only for those free to paint in the first place. Why was God making His gift so hard to carry out?" Esther's guilt pangs increase when she falls in love outside with someone outside of her religious community. Esther's doubts and devotion are a constant struggle for her. Although Jerusalem Maiden assumes a reader's understanding of ultra-Orthodox Jewish beliefs, its message is universal for those repressed by society, religious order, or self-induced guilt. LibraryThing and Harper Collins supplied the advance review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly that of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a delightful historical tale

    In 1911 Jerusalem, the Kaminsky family like their ancestors for generations is Haredi Jews who believe in a strict interpretation of the Torah. The Haredi adhere to a divided by gender lifestyle with males studying and enforcing Torah while females stayed at home to raise children and praying one will be the Messiah or sit behind curtains. Esther Kaminsky wants to break the restrictions as she desperately wants to pursue art in France; of which she has shown a propensity. However, her family expects her to marry a good Haradi man and bear children with him as they will raise their offspring in the same way she was raised. When her mother dies, her hope to escape her expected life dies too. Obeying her father as she feels guilty that God punished her family due to her dreams and her forbidden activities, Esther marries a modern Jaffa Jew, sending her away from the city she loves.

    In 1924 circumstances and a miraculous opportunity enable Esther to travel to Paris. She muses about God working in mysterious ways as affirmed by her roundabout way to come to the city she dreamed of studying art in until her mom died.

    This is a delightful historical tale of the life of a Jewish woman raised in Jerusalem during the last days of the Ottoman Empire as Jews "bloom the desert". Esther is a terrific individual who believes her dreams and other actions led directly to the family tragedy as God punished her for failing to follow scripture. Although the ending seems weak compared to the travels of Esther to get there, fans will relish this deep spotlight on being Jewish in the early twentieth century Holy Land.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014


    Found the main character to be irritating and irresponsible for her own actions.

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  • Posted June 8, 2013



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  • Posted April 19, 2013

    This is not an incantation of the hateful rhetoric that is assoc

    This is not an incantation of the hateful rhetoric that is associated with the title. Rather. it is us Jews that ask the question, “What limits are justifiably placed on our lives by our laws?” For more than half, probably far more than half, of all Jews, this is no archaic throwback; it’s a real issue. Many Jews, Muslims, and animists – practitioners of any “traditional” faith except Christianity – must choose whether or not to be bound by a tradition that is written in the Voice of God. What if who God authentically created you to be is at absolute odds with the laws that your culture demands that you practice?

    This is the question asked of Esther, the Jerusalem Maiden of the title. Esther feels her senses, acutely. She tastes things in color. She sees colors in action on paper, and the sensations of womanhood will roll over her in four dimensions. Every instant pops, washes, dances, tickles, or cries itself across her senses as the thing and its derivative in time. As a young girl in Meah Shearim, the most hateful corner of the most rigid city outside the Caliphate, her father lets her learn secular (horror!) subjects at the hand of a Mlle. Thibaux. Her best friends, Ruthi and Asher, also fight against the strictures of the Haredi vise grip. Ruthi fughts by committing suicide, and Asher, by exiling himself to Europe where he becomes one of its most celebrated conductors. As for Esther, she battles against her artistic talent and passionate nature. She tries, really tries, to honor her husband, with whom she has three (he believes four) children. But she winds up in Paris, meets her tutor and the tutor’s illegitimate but brilliantly talented son, who is just a few years her junior. There, she dicovers that a painting of Jerusalem that she did as a child hangs in the Louvre.

    There is a shift in voice that occurs when the book flashes forward to present day. The poignancy of being free to be who you are, but choosing obligation over integrity, practically drenches the pages of this imporrtant literary novel with its tears and its blood. History, and the might-have-beens, will leave any perceptive reader moved. I’m no stranger to this discussion myself, having pursued a fine arts career only to leave a broken marriage and financial ruin in the wake of that vessel. Did Esther have regrets at the end? You will wonder – because the answer is never given. Neither is the answer to the only question that matters more than the “Jewish question” of this book. The only question really worth sacrificing for is the question of love.

    If I have one minor beef with the book, it is that the author, Talia Carner, is uncompromising in her hostility to the people of Meah Shearim. The only person in the whole novel for whom the mores of the Haredi hold any joy is the person whose fate it is to escape from them. Still, this book is a great achevement. I think that I will remember it long after my own output has been forgotten.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2012

    When I read a good book I want to be swept into the world of the

    When I read a good book I want to be swept into the world of the protagonist, to discover the inner workings of that time and place, and to learn about something I had known little about. I want to cheer the protagonist as she makes the long journey and stay with her throughout the ups and downs, the struggles and the hurdles--until the final triumph. I want to be there when the triumph turns out to be short-lived because the forces that shape her life might be greater than her spirit--or witness as she conquered them as well.....
    All this I've found in JERUSALEM MAIDEN. With fluid prose, unflinching excellent descriptions, fine-eye to detail and ear to dialogue, Talia Carner has created a story that is both unique and compelling. I could not put down the book, yet did not want it to end. But end it did, with two dramatic, emotional-filled events.
    Then came the final test of a good book, which made this novel the greatest literary feat: The story stayed with me for days. Esther walked in the paths of my brain and heart. The moral, religious and psychological questions kept haunting me with their possible answers. They challenge me as few thought-provoking novels ever do.
    Hurray, author Carner!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012


    This the kind of book that makes you want to start right back at page 1 the moment you finish.

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  • Posted September 23, 2012

    Very interesting!!!

    I enjoyed reading this book. The story was very interesting and educational even though I am a Jew, but of a different sect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    So wonderful!

    My great aunt lent this to me and I read it in two days because I couldn't stop! Now I have so many questions about my family's history. Can't wait to talk to my aunt about her childhood!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

    A good read

    I enjoyed reading Jerusalem Maiden, learned many things about the various sects. What I found a bit disturbing is how a mother could leave her children to lead the life she always longed for.

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  • Posted March 7, 2012

    A compelling read

    This book grabs you and keeps you. It is a historical novel. I loved the main character and was loving the book until close to the end when I felt "the maiden" made a odd decision for a loving mother. I don't want to give away too much. When I finished the book disappointed with the main character, I realized I loved the book and I would not have cared about her decision if I was so involved in the story. READ IT!

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  • Posted May 12, 2011

    Do Not Miss This Book!

    It's rare to find a book where you want to find out how the story ends, but you hold yourself back because you don't want to leave the world the author has created. Jerusalem Maiden is just such story. When the novel begins, Esther Kaminsky is living Jerusalem during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. She is one of several children, and she is fixing to come of age and be married off so that she have children and usher in The Messiah. Esther has a longing to become an artist, but she is torn between her faith and her duty to her people. This is a time when Jews still viewed Israel as the right of The Messiah and far into the future. Zionists were viewed with disdain by the Religious Establishment, so a woman who would rather practice art rather than have a family was taboo. When her mother becomes sick from a blood infection, Esther makes a promise that she will give up her gift. She keeps this promise even after her mother dies, thinking it is G-d punishing her. Even she is given the chance to express herself again many years later, she does not want to admit to herself, or to others, that she is an artist. This book's central theme is about not denying who you truly are. In many ways, it recalls the works of Sholom Aleichem, whose work is best known through the stage adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. The characters are simple people that the reader cannot help but love. The traditions, even when they seem outdated in the 21st century, make us long for a simpler time. The only problem it has is that it does not come with a glossary for all of the Hebrew and Yiddish words that the author uses. Most times, the reader can figure it out based on context, or it has already be said, but in 400 pages, it would be night. Aside from that, this is a book that when you finish, it will be like you lost your best friend, so you will want start it all over again.

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    Posted February 27, 2012

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    Posted October 27, 2011

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    Posted November 9, 2011

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    Posted April 10, 2012

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