PYL Book Club (July 2022): Rebecca of Salerno by Esther Erman
This was a difficult read for me, especially now with all that is going on in the US around the continued oppression of women, but I am glad that I read it.
Rebecca of Salerno was difficult to read because it made me angry, but was good for reflection upon completion. This would make a great book for a book club serious about debates and discussion
Why else do we read if not to step into the lived experiences of others, even if just for a moment? It’s also why we travel; to step outside of our own stories (and comfort zones) allowing us to better understand and relate to others.
Rebecca, the main character, is a fictional character pulled from Walter Scott’s book, Ivanhoe. It’s been decades since I read that book and do not remember her character. I also have no familiarity with the time this book is set, 1195 CE nor the rituals and rites of the Jewish faith.
As an agnostic feminist who detests religion in nearly all its forms, it is triggering to read about women bowing to the rules of their religion.
I had several conversations with friends (and my husband) as I read this book. I was encouraged me to to put some distance between me and Rebecca so that I could appreciate her experience and story as written by author Esther Erman who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I appreciated Rebecca’s determination and diligence as she and her colleague Rafael investigated the murder of a crusader in Salerno, assumed to have been at the hands of a visiting rabbi. Rebecca’s deeply held religious convictions both aid, and make more difficult, her pursuit of the truth and her work as a physician. She finds a delicate balance between the two that others struggle to understand.
Toward the end of the book, in the last chapter in fact, there are a few lines that perfectly exemplified why I struggled with this book.
At one point, her father says, “I know the family can count on you.” And they can.
He, as do others in the community, expected her to give of herself without giving any thought to what she needed and wanted. While she had chosen to not marry and have children, and to become a physician, against all protests by her father and others in the community, she was expected to put them first.
Her father had said, “as a skilled physician and compassionate woman, you could be an immense resource for the community.” There’s no mention of her finding greater meaning or happiness for herself. It was always about how she could be of service to others.
Despite all that she does and has done, she ‘felt a debt of honor and caring for my family…And that debt extended as well to my family in Barcelona.” I wanted to throw the book across the room.
Rebecca can be depended on to make the “right” decisions which, upon reflection, went beyond what others expected of her. Rebecca lived by her own moral code, strongly influenced by her religious faith, that was compassionate, loving, supportive, and honorable in her support of humans.
I can respect this even if the way she went about it was incongruous with how I would like to see women operate in the world.
Remember to buy local and support women owned bookstores.
Piloting Your Life ,Terri’s debut book, is ‘an inspiring, well-researched beach read’ inspiring women to design and live a life of their own creation. Available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook on Amazon and other online retail outlets.
Terri is exploring more about her midlife (and being a tiara wearing, champagne drinking troublemaker) on her YouTube channel.