I wanted a respite from the dark-themed books I had been reading for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. Something opposite these, I thought.  My eye settled on this religious fiction by Rebecca Kohn which had been  forever in my TBR pile.

Author :  Rebecca Kohn

Date of Publication : 2005

Publisher : Penguin Books (mass paperback)

ISBN-10: 0143035339

No. of pages :  384

The Story :

This is a story of how a young Jewish orphan, Esther, became Queen to one of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world, King Xerxes. But her story is unique because she goes down in Biblical history as one of those really rare heroines in the Old Testament who succeeded in saving her people from annihilation.

Hadassah, for her own survival, embraces the name Esther and becomes a closet Jew when she is abducted to serve in Xerxes’ harem as part of a crop of young virgins from which he would choose his new bride. (Xerxes had banished his beautiful but cruel wife, Queen Vashti, in a drunken pique for her refusal to appear before his party guests on his command.)

Esther comes to live in the harem, doing the best she can to get along with everyone.   She learns that in such an autocratic and hierarchical-sensitive environment,  the virtues of obedience, submissiveness,  generosity, respect of and deference to authority make life tolerable and endows her with the ability to influence others.

Upon her first presentation to the King,  Esther captivates him and in one night, makes a meteoric rise to Queen.

But her new life is threatened when Xerxes’ issues an edict calling all Jews to be annihilated, as per Haman’s, his corrupt chief advisor’s, whim. Haman is incensed that the Jew, Mordechai, the treasury official and in secret, Esther’s cousin, refuses obeisance to him, and so extends his wrath to all Jews.

Queen Esther is faced with a dangerous dilemma :   save her people by exposing her true lineage and forcing an uninvited audience with the King (an unsummoned presence before the King can earn one the death penalty) to plead for her people’s lives or keep mum about her Jewish parentage to save her own life and her position as Queen.

And so goes one of the most romantic stories in the Old Testament.

My Review :

The tale of Esther is a very powerful and moving story of courage and selflessness.  It is a tale of  a woman’s style of patriotism that necessitated giving up her life for one’s country/people.  It also has very significant religious points that reinforces the belief in (1) God’s existence;  (2) His constant vigil over His Chosen People and (3) His divine will and purpose for each person’s existence.

Rebecca Kohn  tries to capture this with by sticking quite closely to Esther’s story,  narrating it in her florid, romantic style  that makes her descriptions so rich and vibrant:

” The eunuch stopped before the door to the harem court.  On the doorjambs before me, a molded relief of the king fought a rearing lion monster with no more than a dagger in his bare hands….the eunuch rasped,…’You will live here in great comfort until your breasts sag and your sweet honeycomb shrivels…’….I looked at the eunuch , my eyes wide with terror…The lion monster on the doorjamb lunged for me.  I fled from the creature’s wide mouth and sharp claws into the harem court.”   — p.43

Her character, Esther, is a refreshingly different take on the ideal of a strong woman. Here, we see a girl who was strong without having the usual feminist aggressive, adventurous, stubborn, iron-willed character that a lot of writers favor to make their heroine so interesting.  Instead, Esther’s subservience and obedience coupled with her grace and feminine charms realistically favors her successful adaptation  to a masculinely dominated world where women’s subjugation are part of  its culture.   She succeeds without having to be obvertly defiant or wilful;  she simply does what she morally thinks is right in her own firm, quiet, patient way.

However, as a whole, the novel just didn’t quite make it to my standards for an outstanding rating.  Somehow, it just fell a little flat for reasons I cannot really define.  Perhaps, it was the ending which I felt wasn’t quite satisfactorily resolved and  rather anticlimactic at that.

In A Nutshell :

As a debut novel though, “The Gilded Chamber” is a good first effort.  I’ve taken to her writing style so that I’m not put off  from reading other novels Kohn may have churned out by now.    Moreover, for those looking for a fast read, this novel is it.   Aside from being a light read,  it’s got much more intellectual “meat” than say, a vampire or chick-lit novel;  so a good choice for that next beach read.

My Mark :  Very Good

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