I received a free copy of Rebecca of Salerno by Esther Erman from Books Forward. All opinions are my own.
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About Rebecca of Salerno:
This book continues the story of Rebecca from Walter Scott’s 1820 novel Ivanhoe.
The Ivanhoe backstory: Jewish women in medieval England do not fall in love with Christian knights like Ivanhoe. Neither do they heal knights from battle wounds. But Rebecca does both—and nearly pays with her life. Rescued by Ivanhoe from being burnt at the stake as a sorceress, she flees from England and the man she loves.
Rebecca of Salerno: In Salerno, Kingdom of Sicily, Rebecca pursues her dreams by attending medical school. Practicing her profession, she defies family pressure to marry Rafael, the man who loves her. But more pressing is the conquest of Sicily by the Hohenstaufens and the arrival of rogue crusaders, both of which threaten Salerno’s long-standing atmosphere of tolerance. When a rabbi is falsely accused of murdering a crusader, Rebecca and Rafael commit to pursuing justice and protecting the Jewish community.
This story provides fascinating history, as of the medical school in Salerno, where women and men—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—studied together. It also exemplifies the recurring Jewish experience of persecution, search for refuge, and resilience to remake lives.
Rebecca struggles to balance community expectations and traditions with her desire for fulfillment—one of the great challenges facing women throughout the ages.
You can purchase Rebecca of Salerno on Amazon.com
About the Author:
Like her heroine, Rebecca, Esther Erman was a refugee. A naturalized citizen, she early on developed a passion for language, which led to her earning a doctorate in language education, writing her dissertation about the Yiddish language, and working with international students on many levels.
A multi-published author, Esther now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband. When they’re not traveling—especially to be with family in other parts of the US and in England—she loves to bake, quilt, and add to her monumental book collection.
“Esther Erman’s meticulously researched novel of Jewish life in the Middle Ages brings the fragility of Jewish existence to life. The reader discovers a strong, brave woman who, while pursuing a path to become a healer in the face of great odds, holds on tenaciously to basic Jewish values like the pursuit of justice. . . . a compelling story.”
—Rabbi Sheldon Lewis author of Torah of Reconciliation and Letters Home: A Jewish Chaplain’s Vietnam Memoir
“With grace and verve, Esther Erman revives the character of Rebecca, bringing that valiant and resourceful heroine to Salerno . . . [hoping] to leave her memories of England behind. However, she once again learns how expendable her fellow Jews are when faced with antisemitic sentiment.”
—Michelle Cameron, author of The Fruit of Her Hands and Beyond the Ghetto Gates
“A rich historical tapestry rife with fascinating characters and an intriguing, page-turning story. Readers will be dazzled by the descriptions of life in medieval Salerno and fall in love with the smart, passionate Rebecca in this satisfying mystery.”
—Hannah Jayne, author of Truly, Madly, Deadly and The Girl in the Headlines
“Erman deftly weaves a wealth of historical detail into a gripping, fast-paced tale of vengeance, love, and healing . . . very much a novel for our time. Erman’s masterful achievement left me feeling moved and inspired.”
—Juliet Shields, Professor, Dept. of Humanities, Northumbria University, author of Nation and Migration
“. . . a superb work of historical fiction. It is everything the genre begs for: romance, intrigue, and a captivating mystery. Set at the end of the 12th century and the dawning of the 13th. . . a lively picture of life for Jews, especially Jewish women, in much of Southern Europe, including colorful and historically accurate descriptions of clothing and food preparation. . . not only an enjoyable read, it is a history lesson for Jews and gentiles alike.”
—Sara Zeff Geber, PhD, author and freelance columnist
“. . . a compelling story of a passionate Jewish heroine solving a murder mystery in the brutal setting of the Crusades. The depth of her knowledge of the customs and language of this period is unsur- passed. A book to be read with relish by lovers of historical fiction.”
—Neil Kaplan, author of Acquiring Polish Citizenship by Descent
“Meticulously researched and populated with a cast of engaging characters . . . Rebecca must pit her intelligence and resourcefulness against the forces of anti-Semitism and misogyny to solve a murder. This historical novel boasts witty dialogue, a fast pace, and an ingenious plot.”
—Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice, The Harem Midwife, and A Trial in Venice
“. . . a lively classic romance with a modern twist . . . By following Scott’s heroine to Barcelona, Salerno, and (in an exciting medieval version of a car-chase) Palermo, Erman brings to life the . . . age-old story of established Jewish communities forced . . . to leave their homes. . . . A life-affirming narrative with deep cultural roots.”
—Emily Klenin, Professor Emerita, Dept. of Slavic, East European & Eurasian Languages & Cultures, University of Southern California
Rebecca is a wonderful protagonist. A continuation if you will, of a character from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, she continues her tale in this novel. Rebecca flees England after almost being burnt as a witch. But it is her fate to survive.
Not just to survive but to thrive. For after arriving in Sicily she fulfills her dreams and goes to medical school. After which she longs to pursue her career rather than marry the man of her family’s choosing.
All is not going to be smooth sailing on any front for Rebecca or any in her circle as the political winds are not blowing favorably as the religious tolerance they are all used to is being threatened by marauding Crusaders intent upon making the world conform to their viewpoint.
As tensions rise and conflicts increase how will Rebecca continue in her practice and find the peace and love she longs for?
This was a page turning read set in a time and place that I really haven’t visited in books before. Perhaps once or twice for a quick visit here and there but never for so focused a stop. It was very interesting to be immersed in this time period and to learn of women going to medical school.
The pages flew by as I found myself fully engaged in Rebecca’s story. A truly wonderful book that has me wanting to learn more about the time period.