The Ninth Day

Ruth Ten­z­er Feldman
  • Review
By – February 14, 2014

As time trav­el is a fair­ly com­mon theme in fic­tion, the attrac­tion of a work lies in the cre­ative exe­cu­tion of the idea. The Ninth Day presents a sweep­ing time trav­el sto­ry, span­ning the peri­od of the rav­aged Berke­ley col­lege cam­pus in 1964 back­ward in time to the city of Paris in the year 1099. The sto­ry is told from the point of view of a half-Jew­ish, half-Dan­ish girl whose father is a pro­fes­sor of physics at Berke­ley and whose moth­er is a Judaica gift store own­er who fre­quent­ly trav­els to Israel to pur­chase unique sou­venirs for her shop. Six­teen-year-old Hope also goes by the name Tik­va, which is the lit­er­al trans­la­tion into Hebrew of her Eng­lish name. Her fam­i­ly is rais­ing her in the Jew­ish faith. Hope stut­ters and is shy and social­ly awk­ward but she is a gift­ed singer and singing is a way to express her­self when spo­ken words and sen­tences fail her. Her fam­i­ly is trou­bled and it is her grand­fa­ther who is her clos­est friend and ally. 

The sto­ry takes place dur­ing Hanukkah simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in Berke­ley and Paris. Through the agency of time trav­el, with a charmed prayer shawl giv­en to Hope by her grand­mother and a time trav­el­ing mes­sen­ger named Ser­akh, Hope saves the life of a new­born baby boy a thou­sand years ear­li­er in Paris. Lessons she has learned from her Berke­ley life with its drug-relat­ed issues of the 60s make her unique­ly suit­ed to per­form this task despite her many fears, doubts and lack of self-confidence.

The book’s struc­ture is inter­est­ing with the ninth day of the title refer­ring to both the pre­ced­ing eight days of Hanukkah and to the eight days between the birth of a baby boy and his brit milah.

This fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry, filled with his­to­ry and sci­ence, seems well researched and the author’s treat­ment of the char­ac­ters’ inter­re­la­tion­ships is inge­nious and impres­sive. The char­ac­ters are believ­able and the read­er is moved to both tears and laugh­ter. The book is ambi­tious; per­haps, too much so. In an attempt to cov­er a huge amount of ground, some of the inter­est­ing fea­tures may be lost with­in the lay­ers upon lay­ers of nar­ra­tive. Nev­er­the­less, this dense­ly plot­ted, intrigu­ing, well-writ­ten nov­el is a won­der­ful read and is rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 14.

Noa Paz Wahrman is a Jew­ish stud­ies librar­i­an and bib­li­og­ra­ph­er at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty in Bloom­ing­ton IN.

Discussion Questions