JERUSALEM MAIDEN by Talia Carner
my previous novels, set in places I had merely glimpsed, with characters
that were entirely fictional—albeit quite alive in my own head—JERUSALEM
MAIDEN was inspired by my grandmother and her untapped artistic genius.
Born in Jerusalem, my grandmother Esther was an astonishingly gifted
artist who confined her talent to knitting, crocheting, sewing and
embroidering—the only artistic expressions permitted women of her time.
She was also an angry, frustrated mother to her children, but grew in
time to become a devoted grandmother.
When I was sixteen, I was sent by my Tel-Aviv-based French high school
for a month to Paris. As I walked the cobblestoned alleys of Montmartre,
I took in the street artists working their craft to the tunes of French
folk songs pouring from surrounding cafés and suddenly I had a vision of
my grandmother as a young Bohemian living there. In a flash I understood
that my grandmother should never have married, had children, or become
my grandmother. Instead, she should have been set free in Paris to
explore her true calling.
Decades later, in the “what if” fashion of fiction writing, I asked
myself what could happen to a feisty, artistic girl, born a hundred
years ago into an ultra-Orthodox religious society in the Holy Land,
who, propelled by her untapped artistic genius, tried to rebel? What if
her talent compelled her to break God’s Second Commandment, “Thou shall
not make any graven image?” What would it take to fight the
restrictions, dictates, and prohibitions so deeply ingrained in her mind
and heart? Could such a girl permit her passions to defy God and risk
The historical facts of the Ottoman Empire’s rule of the Holy Land are
well documented: by the early 20th century, when my book is set, the
government was corrupt and decaying. Also, much of my family’s
ten-generation history in Jerusalem is documented through books and
names on street signs. But most historians were ignorant of women's
lives of that era. To support my grandmother's stories, I read
hand-written journals and letters at a specialized Jerusalem library,
consulted historians, and used rare maps to walk the old neighborhoods.
Interviewing aging women about the nuances of their mothers' lives, I
found that Jewish women in the early 1900s believed that Jerusalem’s
pestilence, hunger, and burying half their babies were facts of life—or
their due suffering meant to hasten the Messiah’s arrival. Through these
oral histories and primary documents, I constructed Esther, the young
woman whose yearnings for individuality and freedom forever clashed with
JERUSALEM MAIDEN is not my grandmother’s story, but rather my fictional
alternative life I’ve created for her. Equally important, in the
years-long process of shaping the material into a suspenseful novel, I
realized that Esther's story is still universal. Many Western women,
even today, are bound by self-imposed social and psychological
constraints that hold them back. Is it ever possible to reconcile
between a woman's yearning for individuality versus the demands of
Return to main book page...