Archive Book Nook News: Vol I, Issue 4, December 1997

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Are you familiar with the Old Testament story of Joseph, particularly “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”?  Did you know he had a sister?  Interested?  This is the book for you, a dazzling story of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter in the Book of Genesis
A minor character from the book of Genesis tells her life story in this vivid evocation of the world of Old Testament women. The only surviving daughter of Jacob and Leah, Dinah occupies a far different world from the flocks and business deals of her brothers. She learns from her Aunt Sarah the mysteries of midwifery and from her other aunts the art of homemaking. Most important, Dinah learns and preserves the stories and traditions of her family, which she shares with the reader in touchingly intimate detail. Familiar passages from the Bible come alive as Dinah fills in what the Bible leaves out concerning Jacob’s courtship of Rachel and Leah, her own ill-fated sojourn in the city of Sechem and her half-brother Joseph’s rise to fame and fortune in Egypt.
After several nonfiction works on Judaism, Diamant’s fiction debut links the passions of the early Israelites to the ongoing traditions of modern Jews, while the red tent of her title (where women retreat for menstruation, childbirth and illness) becomes a resonant symbol of womanly strength, love and wisdom.
The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park
The “secret book” of the title–or libro segreto, in the old Florentine manner–is the detailed account of Grazia dei Rossi’s exciting and turbulent life, written so that her son might know his legacy.
Inspired by a letter written centuries ago by a young Jewish woman to Isabella d’Este, The Secret Book of Grazia is a rich and complex work of fiction. This historical novel brings to life the sublime art, political corruption, and religious intolerance of 16th-century Florence from a rarely explored vantage point: the complicated symbiosis between Christian and Jew. Grazia dei Rossi, educated daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, has fallen in love with a young Christian nobleman. Forced to choose between her love and her faith, she chooses love. But her betrothed is whisked away by kinsmen, and the humiliated Grazia is ruined–until fate throws her another chance in the guise of a second marriage proposal, this one from the powerful Judah del Medigo, scholar, physician, and adviser to popes and kings. Under his guardianship, Grazia flourishes as a scholar and scribe, eventually becoming the secretary to Isabella d’Este, where she reenters the world of courts and courtiers.
And that’s just the beginning; Park blends scholarship, imagination, and a compelling heroine to serve up good, old-fashioned literary stew, thick with the irresistible details of place, plottings, and passions.
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
Olivia Yee is six years old when her half-sister Kwan arrives from China.  Olivia’s neglectful mother, who in pursuing a new marriage can’t provide for her dauther’s needs, finds Kwan to be a handy caretaker.  Olivia grows up sharing a room with Kwan and becomes privy to Kwan’s secret:  she has yin eyes, meaning Kwan talks to ghosts.
Uninterested, and only pretending to believe Kwan to avoid the consequences (once she mentioned Kwan’s ghosts to her parents and Kwan was sent to a mental institution), Olivia listens to stories of Kwan’s childhood in China, and her past lives as well.  Only once does Olivia show true interest in her half-sisters ghosts:  she engages Kwan’s yin eyes to persuade her boyfriend, Simon, that his dead ex-girlfriend wants him to move on to a new life.
Thirty years later, Olivia and Simon, married and co-owners of a public relations business, are seeking divorce, much to the ceaseless advice and pleas to reconsider from Kwan and her ghosts.  Olivia is sure that Simon never gave up his love for his dead sweetheart.  Kwan sees things otherwise.  She begs Simon and Olivia not to cancel their planned trip to China to write an article on authentic Chinese cuisine.  Kwan will accompany them herself, taking the opportunity to return to her home.
In the village where Kwan grew up, Olivia confronts the tangible evidence of what she has always presumed to be her sister’s fantasy of the past.  And there, she finds the proof that love endures, and comes to understand what logic ignores, what you can know only through the hundred secret senses.
This book is a never-ending unravelling ribbon of sisterly love, letting go, past-life regression, karma and opening your heart.  I couldn’t put it down – I was sneaking chapters whenever my email was polling or the boss wasn’t around.
I am Mary Tudor by Hilda Lewis
After reading I, Elizabeth, by Rosalind Miles (a fantastic autobiographical account of Queen Elizabeth I, which I highly recommend if the subject interests you), I was eager to read more about Elizabeth’s half-sister, Queen Mary I, the infamous “Bloody Mary”.  I thought I had found a jackpot in I Am Mary Tudor.  The inside cover described the journey of a sweet, kind, loving young woman who in later history was only remembered for her fanatical acts of cruelty against Protestants.  Where had the transition occurred?  

The book delivered well, describing not only Mary’s relationship with her mother, Catherine of Aragon, and her father, King Henry VIII, but also her experience with her five step-mothers.  She was hated by Anne Boleyn and banished from court.  Jane Seymour enabled her to return.  Anne of Cleves became her confidante.  She watched as Katherine Howard met her bloody fate and looked on at her father’s last years at the side of Catherine Parr.

With anticipation and heartbreak we learn of Mary’s endless betrothals to this or that European sovereign, yet by the end of the book she is still an unmarried spinster in her thirties.  She is ruthlessly persecuted for her never-failing Catholic beliefs.  She is intimated again and again in plots of treason against her brother, Edward VI.  But thanks to the Act of Succession, and the constant support of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr, Mary becomes Queen after her brother’s death, and, of course, after that little Jane Grey is put out of the way.  England welcomes her with open arms, cries of joy, parade and pageantry.  And you can’t help but cheer for her as well.  Finally!  She’s getting hers!  Now things are gonna get really down-and-dirty, interesting, intruige, bring it on, Hilda…
And then it ends.  Mary is crowned.  The End.  That’s it!  So the book ends up not delivering on it’s most tantalizing question:   how did this much-loved queen turn into the cruel “Bloody Mary”?  The story is fabulously written, but it ends so abruptly that it’s a let-down.  I honestly thought pages had been removed from the book.
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