THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish is one of those books that, when you close its covers upon reading the final pages, you know you’ve read something special. It is also the kind of book that, days later, sinks even deeper into your subconscious and makes you realize just how impressive a literary accomplishment it is.
I was immediately intrigued by the dual-period style and the book jacket’s promise of a story about “two women of remarkable intellect.”
I should note, up front, that rarely in dual-period novels do I find both stories equally compelling. I generally feel one is stronger and often favor the historical storyline, but in this novel, they both carried tremendous weight and were done so well!
I suppose the beautiful cover drew me to this book as well, and the title with the word “ink” in it was part of the attraction – as I was an avid letter writer when I was younger (with pen-pals from across the world). I assumed – and was correct – that there would be epistolary elements to the book as well … another thing I love. But once wrapped inside the pages of THE WEIGHT OF INK, I was gripped by the incredible characters, full of depth and flaws, wants and desires, facing obstacles and celebrating triumphs.
And did I mention the writing? The writing is gorgeous, poetic, lyrical and so adept at reaching inside the characters’ heads and hearts! As my friend Jaline’s review
said better than I have, here: “The characters are extraordinarily well developed and contain such a treasure trove of human thoughts and feelings on so many different levels, that their very integrity led me to a deeper understanding of each one’s inner nature.”
THE WEIGHT OF INK is a long book (560 pages with some very small print in some parts) and also includes a great deal of historical background, period language, and religious + philosophical themes. BUT these elements happen to be the VERY reasons I loved this book so much.
1) Length – With the publishing industry’s typical 320-page standards, I often feel that many books feel rushed and underdeveloped emotionally. (Admittedly, some slim books still portray that emotional authenticity, but many do not). This book takes its time with a slow unspooling of history and character and flashback. And it’s all the richer for it. At the end, you will feel you know Helen Watt, Aaron Levy and Ester Velasquez.
2) Historical background/period language/– The book jacket reveals that this book focuses on Jewish documents (and, therefore one can assume, Jewish faith). I grew up in an Evangelical protestant area of rural Pennsylvania, so I came to this book with very little understanding of Judaism, Jewish history, or culture. I knew not a single person of Jewish faith growing up, and when I attended a Methodist college, still lacked exposure to this religion. That was NOT a detraction to reading this story; it was quite the opposite. This book taught me just how deep my ignorance was regarding the historic and continued persecution of those of Jewish faith (not just during WWII). I am humbled for the learning opportunity.
3) Religion – If you are at all interested in religion, and maybe even if you’re not – how and why people have faith and why others do not, or why others have an alternative kind of faith – this is an excellent book that poses so many fabulous questions.
4) Philosophy – I will be honest. I absolutely abhorred the philosophy classes I took as part of a liberal arts curriculum in undergrad. And yet, I truly enjoyed the philosophical components of this book (of which there are many, and they are – as you might expect – written in realistic, stilted philosophical language). But they were so integral to this story, they fascinated me.
I was hooked by this book immediately, so when I saw an incredible e-book deal, I bought it in addition to the hardcopy my husband bought me for Christmas.
This really is a story of intellect in so many ways: the literary way in which it’s written; the exposure to current academia (which includes some fun being poked at the rigors of academic research); and the intellect of the characters, themselves.
THE WEIGHT OF INK is not a ‘light’ read. But it is satisfying and sustaining. It’s the kind of story you want to commit to – and by that, I mean, don’t rush it. Take your time. Savor the incredible literary language and metaphors, get to know the characters and their secrets, enjoy the slow unraveling of an interesting mystery rooted in historically accurate details, enjoy the new historical insight you may gain.
If you enjoy dual past-present storylines, literary fiction, Shakespearean references, unapologetic women, and a mystery hidden within, read this book! If you love the written word and others who love the written word, read this book! I am still awed by the author’s ability to create prickly and, by many standards, unlikeable characters that, by the end of the book, you literally will be crying with/for.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on February 19, 2018. It is reposted here with the permission of the post author.)