Day 1297: The Weight of Ink

Cover for The Weight of InkThe Weight of Ink is a dual time-frame novel set in the current time and the 17th century. At first, I wasn’t as captured by the present-day sections as I was by the past, but eventually the entire novel absorbed me. There is a big revelation at the end that I anticipated, but that did not lessen the power of the novel.

In the present day, Helen Watt is an English university professor of Jewish history who is elderly and ill. Requested by a previous student to examine a cache of papers he found in a wall of his 17th century house, Helen does not expect any great finds. What she discovers is a genutza, the hidden papers of a 17th century rabbi, and on one page, a mention of Spinoza. Understanding that this could be a major discovery, she requests help and gets that of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student.

One of their first, startling discoveries is that Rabbi HaCoen Mendes’s scribe, identified only by the Hebrew letter aleph, is a woman. Having reported her initial findings to Jonathan Martin, the head of the History Department, so that he could buy the papers from the owners, Helen is dismayed to find her place on the investigation usurped. She can continue working with the papers, but Martin has also given Brian Wilton access. He arrives with four graduate students to beat Helen and Aaron to any discoveries and immediately publishes an article about one of the topics in the letters.

In 1657, Ester Velasquez is a young Jewish woman who has been allowed an unusual education. In these dangerous days of the Inquisition, her family fled Portugal for Amsterdam, where her parents were killed in a fire. She and her brother Isaac are part of the household of Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, who travels to England to educate the British Jews in their heritage, these people having been hiding there pretending to be Protestants during hundreds of years when Jews were not allowed in England. Rabbi Mendes’s difficult job is made harder when Isaac, his scribe, leaves. But the rabbi lets Ester take his place.

Offered an opportunity of knowledge, Ester comes to know that she does not want to return to a woman’s life. So, she sets about a daring deception.

Aside from covering some key events of its time—the Inquisition, the return of Jews to England, the plague, and the Great Fire—The Weight of Ink offers us an intrepid, determined heroine in Ester as well as an interesting modern story. I was really touched by this novel. It’s terrific—the kind of novel I look for in historical fiction.

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10 thoughts on “Day 1297: The Weight of Ink

  1. Carmen December 27, 2018 / 5:11 pm

    Is it heavy on philosophy? That’s partly the reason why seeing this book on sale I chose not to buy it.

    • whatmeread December 28, 2018 / 12:12 am

      No, not to my recollection.

  2. Naomi December 27, 2018 / 9:59 pm

    I think I would love this – it sounds like great historical fiction!

    • whatmeread December 28, 2018 / 12:12 am

      It will definitely be on my top ten list for the year.

  3. Helen December 28, 2018 / 3:48 pm

    This sounds great. Yours is the second positive review of it I’ve seen recently – I’ll have to think about reading it.

  4. Davida Chazan December 30, 2018 / 12:22 am

    Okay, maybe its because I’m Jewish, but this one sounds fascinating to me.

    • whatmeread December 30, 2018 / 12:18 pm

      Well, I’m not Jewish and I loved it.

  5. Constance January 5, 2019 / 1:37 pm

    This sounds like my kind of book and I hadn’t heard of it – thank you, and Happy New (to a) Year of Reading!

    • whatmeread January 5, 2019 / 1:57 pm

      You too! I bet you’ll like it!

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