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   Gilded Chamber, by Rebecca Kohn  
 
  Novel, first publication in May 2004
 
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      What The Red Tent did for Dinah, The Gilded Chamber, a first novel by Rebecca Kohn, might do for Esther, the woman who wielded power over a King. The story follows the Book of Esther very closely: Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.

    After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. sther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom. King Xerxes, a bit of a buffoon both in the Bible and in Kohn's book, is languishing under the effects of idleness and too much wine. He gives Haman his signet ring; Haman drafts the edict which will result in the death of the Jews and seals it with the King's ring. Now, Esther must save her people.

    The portent of this book is found not in the story alone, but in the meticulous research that Kohn has done into the time: Palace life, social customs, history, sexual practices, the place of women, war and politics. Descriptions of the care given to Esther before she meets the King are detailed: her trips to the hairdressers, her hennaed hands, the pungent oils rubbed all over her body, the gold-trimmed clothing she wears. She describes her dinner with a eunuch: "Golden cups in the shape of tulip blossoms were filled with sweet spiced wine from Hodu, and shining silver platters were piled high with meat stews and succulent birds I could not identify. A plate of sugared almonds and pistachios ... and a sweet of sesame, dates and honey..." She is willing to sacrifice all creature comforts to save her people; her success is celebrated to this day in the Jewish feast of Purim.

    Source: Valerie Ryan, Amazon.com.

    In the bestselling tradition of The Red Tent, a dazzling novel of the extraordinary biblical heroine who ascended to the position of queen and sacrificed love in exchange for the lives of her people.

    The story of Esther-whose mesmerizing beauty was matched only by her clear-eyed wisdom-has inspired women for centuries. Now her suspenseful tale comes to life through the eyes of a contemporary woman, debut novelist Rebecca Kohn. Capturing the passionate longings and political danger that have made Esther's legacy so timeless, The Gilded Chamber blends meticulous research with gripping storytelling to transport us to an ancient time in the far-flung Persian Empire.

    Orphaned and terrified, Esther journeys across the River Tigris to start a new life with her cousin-a man well positioned in the court, and to whom she is betrothed. Her transformation from girl to woman unfolds against a lavish backdrop of the royal court and harem, rife with intrigue and daring alliances. Esther wins much of what she seeks: the heart of a king, and the deliverance of her people. But her rise to the role of queen is not without a price; she must turn her back on all that she ever wanted, and give her body to a man she can never love.

    In a haunting, unflinching voice, The Gilded Chamber illuminates an epic dilemma between the yearnings of a woman's heart and the obligations imposed on her by fate. In Esther's case, choice makes history-and unforgettable reading.

     
     
      Related theme(s)  
     
     
  • Kings, Queens & Princes - Emperors - Kingdoms & Empires
  • Orphans
  • Slavery - Slaves - Servitude
  • Women - Feminism - Gender Issues

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