The Bookseller’s Sonnets, Andi Rosenthal

booksellerJill Levin works with Holocaust artifacts at the Holocaust Museum in Lower Manhattan. One day, a package is received which is enigmatic. There are no identifying marks, names or addresses, but the sender claims to have met her and hopes that she will treat the book she has just received, with the proper care. It appears to have been written in the mid 1500’s. The authenticity of the book will have to be verified.
If the book is authentic, it was written at a time when women were treated as chattel, especially in ultra religious communities. Their behavior was highly regulated in the places they lived, essentially insuring that they all lived in ghettos, for they were outcasts if they left the community or disobeyed the Rabbi’s dicta, and they were subject to death if they disobeyed their sovereign.
After collecting these artifacts and meeting survivors for more than a decade, Jill has lost her original thirst and appreciation for her job. She is in a long term relationship with a man who is not Jewish, and she has therefore kept his existence a secret from her parents and grandmother, who would surely vehemently disapprove. Her grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, and as such, believes in preserving the Jewish religion at all costs. Her colleague and office mate, Aviva, is pregnant and very religious, wears a shaitl and long skirts with high necked blouses. This is the atmosphere in which she lives and works.
Modernity clashes with history in this novel as the past and present are in constant conflict because of governments, culture, religion and scientific developments. Two concurrent stories are taking place, one in the current century, post Holocaust and the other in the 16th century, post Inquisition. The modern day preservation of Jewish artifacts from the Holocaust, comes face to face with a manuscript from the 1500’s, ostensibly written by the eldest daughter of Saint Thomas More. Is it authentic, is it not? What is its connection to the Holocaust, if any?
While doing the research on this ancient manuscript, Jill learns of a forbidden, secret love affair between a Jewish bookseller and Margaret More, the eldest daughter of Thomas More who was a close adviser to King Henry VIII. Margaret has been married, unhappily, to a man chosen for her by her father, who is cruel and devious, aspiring to grasp her father’s wealth at all costs. More was eventually beheaded by the King, and Margaret’s husband may have encouraged that outcome with his malicious behavior, and surely, he did nothing to prevent it. Years later, Thomas More was elevated to Sainthood by the Catholic Church, and no longer was his reputation disgraced.
As the research continues, Jill receives personal letters from the anonymous donor which reveal her own wartime experiences under Hitler’s regime. She was forced to give her daughter to a convent, in the hopes of keeping her alive. She herself was deported to Dachau. The night before her deportation, she buries a manuscript. The tradition was to hand it down to the first born daughter in the family, on her wedding day. This woman was trying to preserve it for the future if she survived so that she could pass it to her own daughter, after the war ended. Was this the same manuscript Jill had received anonymously?
What is the connection of this manuscript to Jill Levin? Why was she chosen to receive and protect it? If the woman lived, why did she not pass it on to her own daughter? Why was she keeping her own identity a secret? Why did the Catholic Church try to gain possession of this manuscript which was sent to the Holocaust Museum? So many questions had to be answered and when they were, the revelations would throw Jill into a maelstrom of events that occurred centuries ago which would have a profound effect on her own life in the present day.
The archaic religious rules that governed the lives of women and afforded greater freedom to men were unfair but unchallengeable. Women were virtually puppets of their husbands and those that disobeyed or disagreed could be kept as prisoners of their husbands and live only at their behest. Although centuries have passed, in the present day, there are still some women who live in the shadow of a religious doctrine that is unfair to them, there are still some people whose lives are ruled by religious dogma rather than respect, love, charity, compassion and freedom of choice. Who can answer the question, what is the right way? Who has the power to make such a decision?

About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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