The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

7 comments

I have been very slowly working my way through this novel for months. I was reading it during our Winter Reading Session, and now have finally finished its 560 pages. That’s longish, but it shouldn’t have taken this long to read it. (The Weight of Ink is such an excellent title, isn’t it?)

This book was enthusiastically recommended to a friend by her friendly librarian. My friend bought it, was fascinated by it, and then loaned it to me to read. She was a bit hesitant, because it’s not your average bear of a novel, but I was immediately captivated by its premise which is all to do with ink and paper.

The novel is set in London & its environs, and toggles back and forth between the year 2001, the year a cache of documents is discovered in the space behind a staircase in a very old grand house, and the year 1665, the year during which they were written. The modern day main characters are the two researchers:  Helen, who is nearing retirement, and Aaron, the PhD candidate assisting her in transcribing these papers written in several languages. The 1665 main character is the scribe who wrote most of the documents, first identified only as the Hebrew character, Aleph. The tracking down of this scribe is the great adventure of this story, and because the detailed story of the scribe is slowly unfolded in flashbacks, the reader always knows more than (and knows things before) the modern day characters.

The most profound thing about my experience of reading this book is that I started it before there was Coronavirus, then Novel Coronavirus, and now COVID-19 in the world. The year 1665 did not say “The Great Plague in London” to me. And then I literally read into the plague in the book as our own pandemic bloomed. Here, for instance, is a section I bookmarked on Page 389:

“London seemed redrawn: the invisible borders between parishes, once unnoticed, now were gulfs to be crossed at one’s peril–for the death-roll of each was attended to widely, and no matter how the dead’s kin might lie to mask the cause of death, the numbers spoke plainly. The rising toll had spread these weeks from parish to parish like a tide–or rather, like a fire, for its advance was uneven, as though a quixotic wind carried sparks that might set one patch of forest ablaze while leaving another, for now, untouched. Fear now infected every human transaction.”

Oh, my. I would gladly read another of Rachel Kadish’s books. I’m grateful for my friend’s recommendation.

7 comments on “The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish”

  1. Teri, this book sounds intriguing. I am fascinated by the parallel timelines and love the idea of the past unfolding for the reader, before it does for the modern characters. As to the title, much to ponder in that. The physical weight, the gravitas added when it becomes language. Definitely putting this one on my list. It brought to mind a book I read a handful of years ago, People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. It is a piece of historical fiction which imagines events surrounding the Sarajevo Haggadah, an ancient illuminated Jewish manuscript. It too juxtaposes historic events with modern. A very good book.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have just finished listening to this glorious book, beautifully read by Corrie James. It is rare that I read a book that touches me on so many levels, but this is one of those books. Listening to it was so satisfying and, I suspect, made it easier to wade through its depths. I loved the multi layered story, the two time lines interwoven with each other. I relished the history and philosophical thought. The characters are beautifully drawn and we fall in love, slowly, with each of them. In the end, amidst all of the history and sorrow, this book is a love story. Though not in the usual sense. It is a love story between unlikely companions, between individuals and language/thought, between history and the present. And for life’s great power to persist.

    Much like Teri, I look forward to reading more by Rachel Kadish. She is a masterful storyteller and a brilliant researcher.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. JNaz, I appreciate your circling back here to reinforce my hearty recommendation. I would just love to hear this book read! I wouldn’t mind revisiting it one bit because it is so complex and so beautifully written.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your excellent review, Teri. I also enjoyed your additional comments on the novel, JNAZ. The book does sound fascinating on so many levels. I too was reminded of People of the Book.

    Liked by 2 people

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