Truly one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time!
Unbelievable historical research. Historical fiction is not my normal genre, but I couldn't put this book down. All of the characters and the historical period leaped off of the page. I'm now hoping to move onto reading all of Maggie Anton's other books too.
Subtitle of book is "A Novel of Love and The Talmud in Medieval France." This is the first of three books. The second is Miriam, and the third is Rachel.
Joheved is the eldest daughter of a rabbinical scholar who became famous in his own time. She wants to be a Torah (Bible) student, something frowned upon by some scholars. The family comes to a small town in Champagne (where eventually they invent Champagne wine). Joheved is betrothed to a young scholar. The range of what can happen in a family is considered here: death of the Grandmother with Alzheimer's, death of a beloved sister in childbirth, living births, strange and superstitious rituals that seem to be in keeping with the times. It seems to be a peaceful place to live, despite taxes on the Jews.
The family runs a vineyard, so we learn a little about that, and some Jewish beliefs: "Surely you don't want to cheat a rabbi-scholar right before Yom Kippur," a wine buyer is told. "You are right! You have saved me from a lot of trouble! I will pay what the last person paid and give them a little extra!" At this time, the New Year, Jews try to make amends for their sins and perform acts that will cause God to recognize their "merit."
The characters are drawn honestly--poor girls selecting the finest fabric for new clothing; a young man who is embarassed to sleep in the attic above his sweetheart's bed; a Gentile girl thrown out of the family home by her brother and is taken in by Jews; a father's love for his small daughter. The focus is on Joheved as she navigates her way to adulthood and marriage at about the age of 17. There is a lot of sexual information, such as what the Talmud says, and discussion by betrothed couples, blessings to recite, tricks by friends and relatives to force a boy and girl into each other's arms "by accident." In fact, this part is being deleted from the abridged volume, to be published this year for young teens.
In few words, this is an enthralling story, giving one a good perspective on one small village in medieval times.