The Only Daughter tells the story of twelve-year-old Rachele Luzzatto, an Italian Jewish girl who must simultaneously navigate the Christmas holidays and her father’s sudden health problems. Raised Jewish in a country stripped of its Jewish population during the War, Rachele questions her place in the world — whether she belongs more in her school’s Christmas play, her interfaith family, or her various friendships. Though she considers herself a dutiful Jewish girl, part of her is intrigued by the very Catholic country in which she lives, and why so many people seem to view Jews in such a strange and often negative light. A. B. Yehoshua brilliantly captures the tone and mindset of a conscientious, curious, and pragmatic girl on the cusp of adulthood. Despite her economic comforts and pleasant upbringing, she begins to understand the complexities of her social world and the struggles that families can go through. Most Jews experience this kind of awakening at some point in their early years — the realization that they are an “other” in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Yehoshua also incorporates characters from various religious, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. While her father is in and out of the hospital, she visits all of her grandparents, two of whom are Jewish, one of whom is Catholic, and one of whom is a self-proclaimed atheist. She also spends time with her family’s driver, her former teacher, an Ethiopian servant who takes her around Venice, and others. These interactions show Rachele that to be Italian, to be Jewish is not just one thing. Different identities can coexist; in fact, they flourish when combined.
That being said, Rachele doesn’t come to any grand conclusions about her Judaism and what it means to her. Nor should she — she is young and, in the true spirit of Judaism, always challenging what she’s told. The fact that Yehoshua’s book is a translation of the original Hebrew only adds to the discussion of dual identities: while it was written by an Israeli, it also challenges the idea of Israel being the sole Jewish haven. Rachele does dream of going to Israel someday, but this book makes it abundantly clear that Jewish life has and will always exist elsewhere. As Rachele is told, “Italy is your homeland, whether you like it or not, Italian is your mother tongue … so you have to keep Italy inside you even if you leave it.”
Isadora Kianovsky (she/her) is the Development Associate at the Jewish Book Council and has loved Jewish books since she was about eight years old. She graduated from Smith College in 2023 with a B.A. in Jewish Studies and a minor in History. Prior to working at JBC, she interned at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the Jewish Women’s Archive, and also studied abroad a few times to learn about different aspects of Jewish culture and history! Outside of work, she loves to write and spend time with her loved ones.