Guest Post by Maggie Anton: History From a Woman's Perspective

02_Enchantress

Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Plume
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 400

Series: Rav Hisda's Daughter
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Fantasy

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Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.

One of the most powerful practitioners of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda's daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava--whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a "man out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death--the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk.

The author of the acclaimed Rashi's Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda's Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where "abracadabra" originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman


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About the Author

03_Maggie Anton


Maggie Anton was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, California. Raised in a secular, socialist household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. All that changed when David Parkhurst, who was to become her husband, entered her life, and they both discovered Judaism as adults. That was the start of a lifetime of Jewish education, synagogue involvement, and ritual observance. In 2006, Anton retired from being a clinical chemist in Kaiser Permanente's Biochemical Genetics Laboratory to become a fulltime writer.

In the early 1990's, Anton learned about a women's Talmud class taught by Rachel Adler, now a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She became intrigued with the idea that Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever, had no sons, only three daughters. Slowly but surely, she began to research the family and the time in which they lived. Much was written about Rashi, but almost nothing of the daughters, except their names and the names of their husbands. Legend has it that Rashi's daughters were learned in a time when women were traditionally forbidden to study the sacred texts. These forgotten women seemed ripe for rediscovery, and the idea of a trilogy of historical novels about them was born.

After the success of "Rashi's Daughters" Anton started researching the lives of women in 4th-century Babylonia, where the Talmud was being created. Surprised by the prevalence of sorcery among rabbinic families, she wrote "Rav Hisda's Daughter: Bk 1 - Apprentice," which was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award Fiction finalist and a Library Journal pick for Best Historical Fiction.

For more information please visit Maggie Anton's website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


 History From a Woman's Perspective:


     Where I first started studying Talmud over 20 years ago, I became determined to discover if the daughters of the great medieval Talmudic scholar Rashi were as learned as legends said. Eventually I found that not only were the legends indeed true, but that their lives, and the lives of other Jewish women in 11th-century France, were far better than I would have imagined for the Dark Ages. I was so impressed by all this evidence, information no one seemed to know about, that I decided to write a trilogy of historical novels, Rashi’s Daughters.

     Why novels? One answer is that I’m not a rabbi or professional scholar with the credentials necessary for a history text. But the truth is that I was always a voracious reader of fiction, so I wrote the book I wanted to read. A bigger truth is that if an author wants to delve into history from a woman’s perspective, she has to write fiction.

     Let’s face it – for most of human history, nobody recorded anything. Then, up until only the last thirty years or so, history was men writing about men for men. As the saying goes, “They don’t call it ‘his-story’ for nothing.”

     I, like most female readers, prefer a female protagonist, one unlikely to be found in war stories, political thrillers, and tales of adventure on the high seas. Give me a heroine who wields the power behind the throne or is caught up in historic events from within her household. Better yet, show me how women lived back in the old days – how they fit into society, how they struggled with or accepted their communities’ strictures, how they managed to cook, clean, sew, and raise children without our modern conveniences.

     And of course, I want a romantic hero who is worthy of my heroine’s affection.

     But most of all, make her special, either because she has a intriguing profession, lives in particularly interesting times or locations, or is involved with important people. Through her narrative, readers will learn all sorts of fascinating tidbits of women’s history that can only be gleaned today from fiction.

     Rav Hisda’s daughter Dada, the heroine of my newest novel ENCHANTRESS, certainly met these qualifications. Talk about interesting times and locations - she lived in 4th-century Babylonia (now modern Iraq), long associated with jinni and flying carpets, land where the word “magic” originated. She was friendly with Persian King Shapur’s mother and thus had knowledge of all sorts of palace intrigues. Her husband was not only head of the rabbinic community who created the Talmud, but a powerful sorcerer.

     As was Dada, my heroine. This is where I really got to write history from a woman’s perspective, and hopefully change the common view that female magic practitioners were reviled and feared crones who cast evil spells and lived apart from society. Judging from the many thousands of amulets archaeologists have unearthed from this period, the vast majority for healing and protection from demons and evil spirits, most sorceresses were seen as healers. 

      These women even formed some sort of guild that chose a head sorceress to lead them. The Talmudic rabbis consulted them and taught how to find an expert healer, one whose spells were proven. These days, when we know that the placebo effect is real, it’s not surprising that some spells were successful or appeared to be. 

     Dada, for example, knew the magic procedure for protection from the demons in privies (naturally demons lived in nasty, foul places like privies). It involved reciting a particular incantation while washing one’s hands three times. Those who didn’t follow this practice after leaving the privy would go blind if they touched their eyes and suffer all sorts of respiratory problems if they touched their nose. And if, Heaven forbid, they touched their mouth without washing the demons off their hands first, they would acquire unimaginable intestinal diseases. If there was ever a spell that worked, this is it.

     Even so, who would have imagined that sorcery was once such an honored and prestigious profession for women? This is where the historical novelist can really shine – by not only writing a fascinating story from a woman’s perspective, but by also uncovering a piece of previously ignored women’s history.

Check out my review of Maggie Anton's novel:

Enchantress (Book 2 of Rav Hisda's Daughter's Trilogy)

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Comments

  1. Thanks so much for hosting ENCHANTRESS on your blog and honoring me with a guest post.

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