Spanning the 20th century from 1911 through the 1968 epilogue, “Jerusalem Maiden” is a fascinating story which focuses on the life of a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. Talia Carner draws the reader into the life of Esther Kaminsky, the “Jerusalem Maiden”; and, in doing so, provides insight into the history of Israel and the cultural differences among its diverse citizens. On a deeper level, the novel presents the reader with dilemmas that many individuals face. That is, whether to follow your own dream or whether to follow cultural dictates and the expectations of your society. Further, the heroine, as do many individuals, experiences deep turmoil with respect to her faith as she strives to ascertain the direction Hashem (God) would have her choose for her life.
“Jerusalem Maiden” highlights the internal conflict that Esther experiences as she struggles between those choices. In developing the storyline from Esther’s perspective, Talia Carner opens a view of Jewish culture and world history that may be unfamiliar to many readers. However, the novel never loses the focus on Esther’s conflict – whether to pursue art, effectively abandoning her religious upbringing and her family, or whether to follow the path of marriage and motherhood as is expected of young Haredi women. Seeking to know God’s will, Esther must make choices that conflict with her upbringing.
Talia Carner has developed “Jerusalem Maiden’s” characters with rare skill. One finds they are drawn into the characters’ personal conflicts, caring deeply that the outcome will be favorable for a particular individual. The women are very much alive in the pages of this book. The male characters are as well drawn as the female protagonist, her sister Hannah, or her friend Ruthi. Nevertheless, the men’s lives and personalities are not as fully described as those of the women. However, Carner does furnish sufficient detail to provide the reader with insight into the male characters’ mindset – which exacerbates Esther’s conflict between fulfilling personal desires and bowing to the dictates of societal expectations.
I recommend “Jerusalem Maiden” to any reader who is looking for a fascinating read. It is a well written, deeply personal portrait of a young woman struggling to follow her dreams without sacrificing her family or the principles by which she has been raised. You will find yourself hoping that she can do so.