Etz Bookworms (Rm. 12)
It is an actual obscure historical fact that in the year 740, a king in Central Asia, Qaghan Bhagatur, converted himself and the Turkic speaking kingdom of Khazan to Judaism. The Qaghan chose Judaism over other religions as his assertion of independence from both Byzantium and the Caliphate. The Jewish era in Khazan ended in 965, when the kingdom was overrun by Rus warlords. Modern Israel has been a Jewish state for 69 years so far; Khazan was a Jewish state for 225 years. Chew on that!
In The Book of Esther, Emily Barton turns historical fact into a contrafact: Khazan remained Jewish into modern times.
In August 1942, the Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.
After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania's disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.
Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.
The Book of Esther is a profound saga of war, technology, mysticism, power, and faith. This novel—simultaneously a steampunk Joan of Arc and a genre-bending tale of a counterfactual Jewish state by a writer who invents worlds “out of Calvino or Borges” (The New Yorker)—is a stunning achievement. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, The Book of Esther reaffirms Barton’s place as one of her generation’s most gifted storytellers.
Join the Etz Chayim Bookworms to discuss The Book of Esther at our next meeting on Sunday, December 3, at 4:30 p.m. The Etz Chayim Bookworms are now meeting on the first Sunday of each month.
Future meetings are all on first Sundays, at 4:30 pm, at Etz Chayim, in one of the classrooms in the quieter wing of the building. Dates: 12/03/2018, 1/07/2018, 2/04/2018, 3/04/2018, 4/08/2018, 5/06/2018, 6/03/2018, 7/08/2018, & 8/05/2018.