book cover of The Gilded Chamber

The Gilded Chamber

A Novel of Queen Esther
A novel by

What The Red Tent did for Dinah, The Gilded Chamber, a first novel by Rebecca Kohn, might do for Esther, the woman who wielded power over a King. The story follows the Book of Esther very closely: Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.

After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. sther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom. King Xerxes, a bit of a buffoon both in the Bible and in Kohn's book, is languishing under the effects of idleness and too much wine. He gives Haman his signet ring; Haman drafts the edict which will result in the death of the Jews and seals it with the King's ring. Now, Esther must save her people.

The portent of this book is found not in the story alone, but in the meticulous research that Kohn has done into the time: Palace life, social customs, history, sexual practices, the place of women, war and politics. Descriptions of the care given to Esther before she meets the King are detailed: her trips to the hairdressers, her hennaed hands, the pungent oils rubbed all over her body, the gold-trimmed clothing she wears. She describes her dinner with a eunuch: "Golden cups in the shape of tulip blossoms were filled with sweet spiced wine from Hodu, and shining silver platters were piled high with meat stews and succulent birds I could not identify. A plate of sugared almonds and pistachios ... and a sweet of sesame, dates and honey..." She is willing to sacrifice all creature comforts to save her people; her success is celebrated to this day in the Jewish feast of Purim. --Valerie Ryan

Genre: Inspirational

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