5 reviews

The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish

Published: 2018-05-01
Paperback : 592 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members

"A gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion."—Toni Morrison

Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women ...
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"A gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion."—Toni Morrison

Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. 
When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents' scribe, the elusive "Aleph."
Electrifying and ambitious, The Weight of Ink is about women separated by centuries—and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.  

Editorial Review

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June 8, 1691
11 Sivan of the Hebrew year 5451
Richmond, Surrey

Let me begin afresh. Perhaps, this time, to tell the truth. For in the biting hush of ink on paper, where truth ought raise its head and speak without fear, I have long lied.
I have naught to defend my actions. Yet though my heart feels no remorse, my deeds would confess themselves to paper now, as the least of tributes to him whom I once betrayed.

In this silenced house, quill and ink do not resist the press of my hand, and paper does not flinch. Let these pages compass, at last, the truth, though none read them.



November 2, 2000

She sat at her desk.

It was a fine afternoon, but the cold sunshine beyond her office window oppressed her. In younger days, she might have ventured out, hoping against reason for warmth.
Hope against reason: an opiate she’d long abandoned.

Slowly she sifted the volumes on her desk. A dusty bilingual edition of Usque’s Consolação lay open. She ran the pad of one finger down a page, before carefully shutting the book.

Half past one?—?and the American hadn’t so much as telephoned. A lack of professionalism incompatible with a finding of this magnitude. Yet Darcy had said the American was his most talented postgraduate?—?and Darcy, perhaps alone among her colleagues, was to be trusted. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Describing the impact of his blindness, the rabbi says to Ester, “I came to understand how much of the world was now banned from me—for my hands would never again turn the pages of a book, nor be stained with the sweet, grave weight of ink, a thing I had loved since first memory.”

For the rabbi and for Ester, ink means many things—among them freedom, community, power, and danger. What does the written word mean to you? Is it as powerful today, amid all our forms of media,
as it was to the rabbi and to Ester?

2. The novel opens with a quote from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71: “Nay, if you read this line, remember not / The hand that writ it”.

Which characters in the novel choose to give anonymously, or without receiving any credit? Would you be willing to have your most meaningful accomplishments remain anonymous or even be
attributed to others? In today’s interconnected world, with privacy so hard to achieve, is there anything you would write or say if you knew your words would be anonymous?

3. In order to write, Ester betrays the rabbi’s trust. Yet in her final confession Ester says, “Yet I would choose again my very same sin, though it would mean my compunction should wrack me another
lifetime and beyond.”

Is Ester’s betrayal of the rabbi’s trust forgivable? When freedom of thought and loyalty argue against each other, which should a person choose?

4. William, Manuel, and Alvaro offer Ester very different sorts of love. What does each offer her, and what sacrifice does each require? How might you answer this question for the love between Dror and Helen?

5. Both Helen and Ester fear love. How do they wrestle with this fear? Could they have made choices other than the ones they made?

6. In what ways did Aaron mature throughout the book?

7. Did the motivations of Ester, Helen, and Aaron change as the novel progressed?

8. Ester’s life is shaped by the wrenching between the life of the mind and the life of the body. Can a woman today freely choose to combine love, motherhood, and the life of the mind, without unacceptable sacrifices?

9. What story do you imagine Dror would tell about his experience with Helen?

10. Ester grows up in a community of Portuguese Inquisition refugees who are fiercely focused on ensuring their safety in the “New Jerusalem” of Amsterdam; they place great importance on reviving Jewish learning and they give their harshest punishment to Spinoza for his heretical pronouncements. When Helen goes to Israel, she encounters Holocaust survivors struggling with the legacy of their losses and the need to establish safety in their new home.
In what ways are these communities similar, and in what ways are they different?

11. What clues does the author include as to the identity of the true grandfather of the female scribe? Did Lizabeta (Constantina’s mother) make the right choice in refusing to play on his pity and beg him to keep her and her daughter in London?

12. After months of chafing at the Patricias’ strict stewardship of the rare manuscript room, Aaron has this epiphany: “and as if his own troubles had given him new ears, Aaron understood that her terseness was love—that all of it was love: the Patricias’ world of meticulous conservation and whispering vigilance and endless policing over f-cking pencils.”

What sorts of love are on display in unexpected ways in The Weight of Ink? In what unexpected ways does love show itself in your own world?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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