“I stumbled upon this quote by Virginia Woolf,” she says. “It’s something like, ‘What would have happened if Shakespeare has an equally talented sister?’ Woolf’s analysis is that she’d have died young and never written a word. And I couldn’t help shadow boxing with that. Like, what would it look like for a talented, smart woman with vision and nowhere to put it in a time when women’s access to education was limited?”
That problem factors prominently in the book. Ester Velasquez is a Portuguese Jew living in London in the 1660s, a scribe for a blind rabbi and a solid thinker in her own right. When elderly professor Helen Watts and her younger assistant Aaron Levy uncover the depth of Ester’s involvement throughout their present-day research, they must grapple with questions about legacy, faith, and what we know and expect of ourselves.
“It’s such an immersive book,” says Kadish. “When I speak to people, I always want to get to the answers of why we read and write fiction—what historic value does it give to us that straight-up history often doesn’t. For me, fiction makes the world a safer place. It’s a way to see other lives and other people. So I know I am going to talk about how fiction can build bridges between us.”
That The Weight of Ink has become so beloved by critics and readers affords what Kadish feels is both an incredible opportunity and an incredible platform: to talk about issues of Judaism and about refugees. In a novel that shines light on the Jewish refugee community in 1600s London, Kadish offers parallels to refugees in today’s world.
“We need tolerance,” she says, “and I’m grateful I have a platform to talk about that. But mostly, I am just delighted that people care about my 17th-century characters that I was writing about at midnight all those years. It’s just mind-boggling and lovely.”