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