The Book of Splendor

The Book of Splendor

by Frances Sherwood

Set in seventeenth-century Prague, The Book of Splendor is an adventure-filled romance stocked with court intrigue and political tension, including the machinations of the rival Ottoman Empire, the religious controversies of Protestantism, and the constant threat of violence to the Jewish community.

The Book of Splendor is an epic tale reminiscent of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, and a love story as unlikely as Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Reading group guide included.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Historical
  • Rating: 3.39
  • Pages: 368
  • Publish Date: July 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton Company
  • Isbn10: 0393324583
  • Isbn13: 9780393324587

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The only court intrigue is overt (seems like a missed opportunity to this critic) and while the Three Stooges-like ineptitude of the two alchemists hired to create an elixir of immortality for the emperor has its moments, their overall incompetence keeps this portion of the plot line from being too engaging. So, the rabbi cautiously and reverently creates a golem (complete with emeth (truth) written across the forehead to be transformed to meth (death) after the sacred 40 days are up) to protect the community. Of course, the big question here is what would happen if the monster became fixated on a grown woman instead of a little child? Strangely, some of the more potentially interesting characters in the supporting cast are virtually wasted in The Book of Splendor. 294) Finally, I loved the redemptive words of the rabbi which are cited by one of the characters near the end. 346) My answer to the question is that it would definitely be harder to do so if we knew what was ahead.

Sherwood does an excellent job giving life to historical characters, creating a few fictional characters, and then blending them together. The culture is so interesting and engrossing, the attitude of the ruling class so realistic-- the novel works. One minor quibble was the poetry..

An interesting book, partly historical fiction combining a look at Prague during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, especially the city's Jewish quarter, with the Golem Legend.

The portrait of a Prague some four hundred years ago is superb - and the themes of segregation, love, death and madness are all dealt with explicitly yet warmly within the novel.

Sherwood describes her book as a "historical fantasy." The book is neither a historical novel because of the fanciful elements it includes nor a work of unfettered imagination because of the attempt to root it in a historical period and in historical event. The book has as its chief female character a young woman named Rochel of uncertain origins. Rochel respects but does not, for most of the book love Zev. These disparate plots are tied together by the legend and figure of the golem. The golem is a legendary creature that was said to have been created by Rabbi Loew to save the Jewish community from harm in Prague. The most unconvincing portions of the book, and the portions which receive the most attention in the novel, are those involving the young woman Rochel and her relationship with the golem. The character of Rochel I found entirely anachronistic in a historical novel of this period or in a historical fantasy. After Rabbi Loew creates the golem, a relationship develops between Rochel and the creature. I found that by making the golem an outlet for Rochel's passion, the book deprecates the relationship between women and men. More specifically, the story -- and the liason the author creates between Rochel and the golem -- deprecates men. This is why, I think, Rochel comes to herself in this book after the affair with the golem, rather than with, say, a relationship with a human being -- a man, whether a Jewish man within the ghetto or a non-Jewish man outside it. As I indicated, the sexual polemic does not fit well with the historical setting of the book or with the sympathy the author tries to convey for Jewish life in the ghetto in these times. The story of the golem is a rather overworked legend at best and it doesn't work well in the context of this novel.

It gave me a better insight to some of the characters (some real historical figures that were dramatized in the book) when I took tours of Prague.