Friday, March 05, 2004

The Gilded Chamber

by Gaby Wenig

"Author Rebbeca Kohn tells the story of Esther's pauper-to-princess journey in way that evokes Anita Diamant's 'The Red Tent' in style and Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' in setting. Much of the narrative in 'The Gilded Chamber' is devoted to life in the harem, a setting that develops intrigues of its own between the girls themselves. There are many lush descriptions of the girls trading secrets and gossiping while reclining on couches and being fed and tended to by eunuchs. The eunuchs also instruct the girls how to pleasure the king, and the book is full of flowery and euphemistic sex prose, like, 'My body opened to him like a rose in bloom, each soft petal unfolding until the final burst of color and fragrance.'

The story of Purim is the backdrop of the 'The Gilded Chamber,' but the book is not a retelling of the megillah. Mordechai's role, for example, is greatly reduced. He is Esther's unrequited love interest and, taking great liberties with the source text, he emerges in 'The Gilded Chamber' as a man largely estranged from traditional Judaism. Esther pines for him, all the while trying to figure out how she can protect herself from becoming doped and sick from the drugged wine that the eunuchs feed the virgins, and how she can keep herself in the king's favor to eventually save her people. According to the book's press materials, Kohn supplemented her imagination with meticulous historical research, and so while there are no surprises about how the story ends, it still manages to look different from the story we know."
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