The Way­ward Moon

By – April 20, 2012

Jan­ice Weiz­man takes read­ers back to ninth-cen­tu­ry Baby­lo­nia in this inter­est­ing debut nov­el. Rahel Bat Yair is the sev­en­teen-year-old daugh­ter of a Jew­ish physi­cian in Sura, a city south of Bagh­dad. Her moth­er died giv­ing birth to her and her father raised and edu­cat­ed her. When he accepts a posi­tion as an advi­sor to the gov­er­nor, an anti-Semit­ic mem­ber of the governor’s entourage mur­ders him and Rahel is forced to defend her­self. After killing the mur­der­er, Rahel flees, lead­ing to many adven­tures through­out the Islam­ic, Jew­ish, and Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties between the Tigris and the Euphrates. She spends time in a monastery, has an ill-fat­ed love affair, and even­tu­al­ly finds her way back to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in the Galilee. Rahel is a strong, learned woman, deter­mined to sur­vive despite the adver­si­ty in her life. The author’s atten­tion to his­tor­i­cal detail adds col­or to an action-packed sto­ry that will keep read­ers turn­ing the pages. Book clubs will enjoy this book. The role of women in ancient soci­eties, arranged mar­riages, reli­gion, and slav­ery pro­vide many issues for discussion.

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jan­ice Weizman

  • The author has said that she delib­er­ate­ly cre­at­ed a hero­ine who is nei­ther unique nor excep­tion­al. Was this, in your opin­ion, a suc­cess­ful choice? Why?

  • At the begin­ning of the nov­el Rahel wants noth­ing more than to mar­ry, and it is this wish that gives her hope of return­ing to a nor­mal” life. In light of this, why does she refuse the first two oppor­tu­ni­ties for mar­riage that arise?

  • While being held as a slave at the Al-Harazi home, Rahel makes no attempt to escape for many months. What was it that final­ly enabled her to leave?

  • What does this sto­ry sug­gest about the place of women in orga­nized reli­gion? In Judaism specifically?

  • Some read­ers say they would have expect­ed a dif­fer­ent out­come for Rahel’s life. How did you feel about the way the sto­ry ends?

  • In the epi­logue of the book, Rahel’s two sons argue over the fate their moth­er want­ed for her man­u­script– for them to find and pre­serve her sto­ry, or for them to destroy it. What are your thoughts on what Rahel would have want­ed? What does this con­flict sug­gest about issues of truth and memory?

  • The Way­ward Moon’s orig­i­nal title was Ent­elechia. Do you think the author should have kept this title?