Three Tales from the Archives of Love
I don’t believe I have ever read a book quite like this. It lies somewhere between history and historical fiction, drawing from letters, an epitaph, and ancient documents. I scarcely know how to begin talking about it. I certainly don’t know how to stop thinking about it.
The first – and longest – section of the book is drawn from the lives of two beggars in eleventh century France and Spain. Both fall in love with a Jewish man named Daveed but afterward lose him, along with their children. Years afterward, they wander, trying to find Daveed’s family and regain something of what they have lost. It is strange but no less wonderful for the strangeness, and though it was like nothing I had ever read before, I found myself settling into it gladly, returning to the chapters again and again. Some books feel like old friends; this one was like meeting a stranger and feeling an immediate connection.
The delightful strangeness continued in the second part, telling the life of a young woman enslaved in the first century CE. Her tale is told backward, beginning with her death and working its way to her birth. In brief snippets, we see her with her family, falling in love, and falling ill. I found myself drawn to her, but I was drawn just as much to the world around her. Doreen Stock doesn’t just describe settings: she illuminates them, bringing to life a world that I had never before imagined. It isn’t often I notice the setting in a book unless it’s pointed out to me, but I found myself reveling in the sensory details she provides, even those which are so unpleasant I would actively avoid them if I found them in my own life.
The third section is the strangest of all, told as it is largely from the point of view of parchments. It took me a moment to fully understand what was happening, but as soon as I realized who was telling the story – the story itself – I dove right in. I have, on occasion, read books told in unconventional styles and with unconventional narrators, but this is a first, and it is masterfully done. Stories from these time periods – the eleventh century, the first century, and the fifth century BCE – are not told often enough, and the same is true for stories of Jewish women. I’m glad I found the intersection of the two, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Chris Hayden been working at City Book Review since 2012, so that makes him the keeper of knowledge. He manages the office and book reviewers (all 200 of them!), which is no small feat. If you’re looking at the book reviews here, you’re seeing them because he sent the books out for review. Without him, this place would fall apart, because no one else in the office knows how to use the postage machine. Two words: job security.
|Page Count||310 pages|
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