The popular adult novel Rashi’s Daughter has been adapted by the author into an engaging book for young adults. The setting is Troyes, France of the 11th century, and the focus is the family of Rashi, the famous scholar. In addition to developing the plot, Anton spends a great deal of time familiarizing the reader with both Jewish and non-Jewish customs during that time and educating us about what it was like to live in this period. Because Rashi’s family were wine growers, the author provides a lot of information about how grapes are grown, harvested, and eventually made into wine. Additionally, we repeatedly read of the many superstitions surrounding all aspects of daily living. The characters are well developed, and we learn a great deal about the main character, Joheved. The author also devotes a large part of the book to descriptions of other characters who are close to Joheved, such as her sister Miriam, the girls’ suitors, her father Salomon, her mother Rifka, and her grandmother Leah. Seen through the eyes of Joheved, the book establishes her subordinate role as a woman and the many problems this creates. However, even though her lifestyle is restricted, Joheved is a very intelligent and resourceful person. For example, she can skillfully do women’s work, negotiate wine sales, and study Talmud. It is this last attribute that creates special issues for her. Despite opposition from her mother, Joheved’s father decides to oppose custom and teach that skill to Joheved and her sister. The book addresses all aspects of the family’s lifestyle — work,study, betrothal, marriage, birth, illness and death. The author successfully depicts these life stages through the multiple characters, which engages and involves the reader in very intimate ways. Sometimes the descriptions of Jewish customs are too frequent and detailed, but that is balanced by the other significant and rewarding elements of the story. Ages 11 – 15.
Marge Kaplan is a retired English as a Second Language teacher. She is a consultant for the children’s literature group for the Roseville, MN school system and is a storyteller of Jewish tales.