The Book of Esther by Emily Barton
A Novel

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Although the fantastical elements in The Book of Esther may startle the reader at first, the realistic human characters who believe in those same elements draw one into this eloquently alternate history.
-NY Journal of Books

Synopsis

What if an empire of Jewish warriors that really existed in the Middle Ages had never fallen—and was the only thing standing between Hitler and his conquest of Russia? 

Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.

After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania's disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.

Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.

The Book of Esther
is a profound saga of war, technology, mysticism, power, and faith. This novel—simultaneously a steampunk Joan of Arc and a genre-bending tale of a counterfactual Jewish state by a writer who invents worlds “out of Calvino or Borges” (The New Yorker)—is a stunning achievement. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, The Book of Esther reaffirms Barton’s place as one of her generation’s most gifted storytellers.
 

About Emily Barton

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Emily Barton earned her B.A. in English literature from Harvard University and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Story and American Short Fiction, and her first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron (FSG 2000)—which won the Bard Fiction Prize and a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship—was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Month, and was nominated for Britain’s Guardian Fiction Prize. She has taught writing and humanities at Bard College, and will be a writer-in-residence at the New School in 2005-06. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
Published June 14, 2016 by Tim Duggan Books. 432 pages
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Book of Esther
All: 2 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dara Horn on Jun 10 2016

Barton has talent to spare, and while her pacing and tone are occasionally ponderous, her imagination makes the story as addicting as a Jewish “Game of Thrones.”

Read Full Review of The Book of Esther: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by D. R. Meredith on Jul 22 2016

Although the fantastical elements in The Book of Esther may startle the reader at first, the realistic human characters who believe in those same elements draw one into this eloquently alternate history.

Read Full Review of The Book of Esther: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

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