Shylock's Daughter

Shylock's Daughter

by Mirjam Pressler, Richard Jones, Brian Murdoch
As the beautiful daughter of a wealthy moneylender, Jessica leads a relatively privileged life in the Jewish Ghetto. But during her rare walks through the main streets of Venice, she has caught glimpses of the colorful, exciting world outside. Then, by chance she meets a handsome aristocrat named Lorenzo who has, it seems, everything that Jessica longs for, and who


As the beautiful daughter of a wealthy moneylender, Jessica leads a relatively privileged life in the Jewish Ghetto. But during her rare walks through the main streets of Venice, she has caught glimpses of the colorful, exciting world outside. Then, by chance she meets a handsome aristocrat named Lorenzo who has, it seems, everything that Jessica longs for, and who promises to make her his wife. There is one painful condition, however: She must convert to Christianity. Will Jessica follow her desires, even if it means leaving behind everyone she loves, and abandoning her religion? Will her father, Shylock, survive this betrayal?

Mirjam Pressler cleverly expands upon Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, offering a richly complex portrait of life in sixteenth-century Venice. This fascinating historical novel has been beautifully translated by Brian Murdoch, whose afterword gives readers a meaningful perspective on the difficult relations between Christians and Jews during that period.

Author Biography: Mirjam Pressler is a highly-regarded expert on the life of Anne Frank. Brian Murdoch is a professor of German in Scotland and has published several translations, including Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front.

Editorial Reviews

Caught up in a forbidden relationship with Lorenzo, a gentile, Jessica feels trapped in the Ghetto Nuovo in sixteenth-century Italy. The strict Jewish codes of conduct are too much for her. She leaves her moneylender father; her caretaker, Amelia; and her childhood friend, Dalilah, for the apparent opulence of the aristocratic life she sees on the other side of the gates. Pressler recreates Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice with its distant era and severe anti-Semitic sentiment from a Jewish perspective. In a poignant scene, Jessica narrates the reaction of Lorenzo, Portia, and Antonia to her father's judgement and sees herself and her silence critically. Herein lies the strength of the book. Pressler bridges the distance between Renaissance Italy and today's teens without distorting history. The weakness, however, is in character development. Many Shakespearean characters appear, although some of the more interesting ones are Pressler's creations. Throughout most of the book, Jessica simply craves flowers, parties, and decorative clothing and is willing to give up her family and faith for them. Although she learns in the end that her freedom from the ghetto simply might be another restriction, readers might tire of her before she reaches this conclusion. Dalilah's character develops much more interestingly, and the book is resolved through her words. She becomes free to leave the ghetto and make a new life in Jerusalem. This book will work well as a complement to the study of Shakespeare's play. Students can compare Pressler's techniques and themes with those of The Merchant of Venice. Murdoch's afterword begins these comparisons and adds much beneficial background information on theperiod. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Phyllis Fogelman Books/Penguin Putnam, 266p, $17.99. Ages 15 to 18. Reviewer: Ann T. Reddy-Damon
Children's Literature
Spinning off from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the German writer Pressler has created a primer about the status of Jews in Venice during the sixteenth century. Her Shylock is still a miser, but seen within the confines of his ghetto's laws, he becomes a more rational one. Jessica, his daughter, is fleshed out, too¾she is a Venetian Jewish princess, more than a little spoiled and vain, yet validly seeking more personal freedom through love. Pressler's new character, Dalilah¾childhood companion and now servant to Jessica—is the book's true spokesman, though. Through Dalilah's occasional first-person chapters the workings of Shylock's household and Dalilah herself come alive. This is a difficult story on many levels. The main dramatic events such as Jessica's theft of her father's treasure, her elopement, and even Shylock's famous trial all happen off-screen. We are left with the regrets and the results. Still, in these there are many things to be learned. 2001, Phyllis Fogelman Books, $17.99. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Pressler attempts to answer questions that have plagued Shakespeare scholars for a long time: what were the motivations of Shylock and his daughter Jessica, 16, in The Merchant of Venice? Why, above all, did Shylock insist upon his "pound of flesh" when he could have had double the money he'd lent? And why did Jessica forsake her father and her upbringing with nary a backward glance? This novel gives an excruciatingly detailed look at life in the Jewish ghettos of Venice in 1594. Shylock's story and Jessica's are told by an omniscient narrator, and don't completely answer the questions posed by the play, though they offer a few more ideas for discussion. Jessica's motivation remains entirely selfish and superficial-she loves Lorenzo, and elopes with him-and Shylock's pain and humiliation, while more clearly understood here, remain remote and complex. Some of the chapters are narrated by Dalilah, an orphan servant girl who was raised in Shylock's household. These chapters are the best in the book, infusing some life into the story, though Dalilah has a tendency to repeat herself. Shylock's history and one-sided conversations with his dead wife are unlikely to interest teens. This is a complex novel with little or no YA appeal.-Amy A. Healy, Loyola Academy Resource Center, Wilmette, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this turgid elaboration of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Pressler (Anne Frank: A Hidden Life, 2000, etc.) subordinates the story's events both to a rich re-creation of the texture of life in the Venetian ghetto and to a series of overwrought reveries in which her unappealing cast members cast light on their various character flaws. Shylock is the Tragic Hero here, losing both loving wife and devoted housekeeper to consumption, his vain, shallow daughter Jessica to a gold-digging Christian husband, and, finally, his entire estate thanks to an irrational, revenge-driven insistence on collecting that pound of flesh from a Christian debtor. The author adds several new characters, notably Dalilah, a young orphan taken in to be Jessica's companion/servant. After more than ten years of being the passive, dutiful one, Dalilah suddenly displays enough gumption at the end-after Shylock abandons her-skipping town rather than be forcibly baptized, to dress as a boy and set out for the Levant. This prompts translator Murdoch, in a long, analytical afterword, to argue that Dalilah's the central character here; but it's Pressler's depiction of the spirit and practices of Venice's Jewish community that emerges most vividly, and will stay with readers longest-at least those who can finish it. (Fiction. 12-15)

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.06(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

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