Esther Kaminsky has a strong desire to be an artist, but has been raised to believe that her only purpose in life is to have children. Set in the early 1900's, Esther Kaminksy is a young artist whose teacher, Mlle Thibaux, sees much talent; however, Esther has been raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish home where most images are considered idolatry. So, the question begins, does Esther follow her passion or the rules she'd been taught? What Esther has been taught from early on is that her sole purpose in life is to have children once she reaches child-bearing age and her dabbling in painting should have been only a hobby until then. It is her family's religious belief that it is necessary to bring sons into the world in hopes that he will be the Messiah. However, as the years pass, Esther keeps asking God if that is her purpose, why then did He give her such a talent as painting?
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The story goes on to show that all the men in Esther's life are given privy to study the Torah, which gives instruction on how they are to live. Esther, as well as all the women in her community, are not allowed to read the Torah and must accept what they are being told. Meanwhile, Esther thrives on stories of Paris and yearns to go there to study under Mlle Thibaux, but doesn't want to go against her family's wishes, especially when she believes God is telling her to follow His laws by punishing her family in a variety of ways. Once Esther believes that all the hardships to her family are her fault, she promises to stop doing her art.
Esther pushes her passions away and follows what she is expected to do. She marries and has children, but over the years her artistic talent haunts her and she eventually makes a decision that goes against all that she was taught to believe. She takes advantage of going to Paris by having her sister care for her three children. She then begins to wonder if God had really punished her family because of her desire to paint or was it just fate, and she starts to question all that she had been taught, at the expense of her religion. However, once she experiences another tragedy, one that is much more personal to her, she believes God is punishing her.
The novel is more than just about a woman who defies how she was raised, but asks, “What is faith?” The story concludes in1968 and the reader hopes that a much-older Esther has made peace with her decision. What is equally fascinating in this work of fiction is that the author based it on her very real grandmother's life and struggles with her passion.
Best scene in story:
When Esther struggles with the idea of marrying the night prior to the wedding.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that she didn't give up on her passion and learned to question her faith.