Esther: A Novel

  • Review
By – October 27, 2015

The beloved sto­ry of Queen Esther is ele­gant­ly elab­o­rat­ed and com­pli­cat­ed in Rebec­ca Kanner’s nov­el Esther. The king’s sol­diers kid­nap the young Jew­ish hero­ine, adding her to his harem. Esther and the vir­gins spend one year prepar­ing for their night with the king and com­pete with one anoth­er for the title of Queen. Life in the harem is full of dan­ger as the young women find it dif­fi­cult to know whom to trust — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of the most desired con­cu­bine, Halan­nah, who aims to make the girls impure before they arrive in the king’s bed­cham­ber for the first time. Esther is forced to hide her Jew­ish iden­tity and pre­tend not to rec­og­nize her cousin Mordechai, the king’s accoun­tant, in the palace court­yard. Mordechai regrets Esther’s predica­ment and is only able to com­mu­ni­cate with her through secret encoun­ters that end up ben­e­fit­ting her and her peo­ple as a whole. 

Esther strives to become queen not for rich­es and fame, but to help bring jus­tice to the land, espe­cial­ly after hear­ing that cer­tain ene­mies with­in the palace are plot­ting to harm the Jew­ish peo­ple as well as the king him­self. From Ruti, Esther’s loy­al ser­vant in the palace, Esther learns how to win the king’s affec­tion and is prompt­ly announced as the new queen, replac­ing the noto­ri­ous Vashti who refused to dance naked for the king’s sol­diers. But Esther also has hid­den affec­tions for one of the sol­diers and must be cau­tious of her con­ver­sa­tions and move­ments at times so as not to seem sus­pi­cious. Her con­flict­ing emo­tions of lust for the sol­dier and loy­al­ty to the king occu­py her thoughts. Soon, how­ev­er, she learns that this soldier’s iden­ti­ty and his past are not what she had realized. 

While queen, she cares for sev­er­al of the harem girls, pro­vid­ing them respite and gifts at times. She is also painful­ly aware of the need to give birth to a son, the future king. As queen, Esther must prove to the sol­diers and palace guards that she is wor­thy of being bowed down to and that she will make life bet­ter for the people. 

The Book of Esther, read each year on Purim, is a time­less sto­ry of hero­ism and sur­vival, and this adap­ta­tion of Esther’s sto­ry adds depth and col­or­ful detail to this well-known Jew­ish tale.

Relat­ed Content:

Vis­it­ing Scribe: Rebec­ca Kanner

Mak­ing Sense of Esther, Beyond Beauty

Esther’s Flir­ta­tion with Haman and Death

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

Discussion Questions