My aunt has always been a prodigious reader and, when I was growing up, I always enjoyed looking through the stacks of books that she had sitting in the closets of her room. A few years ago, for medical reasons, my aunt had to move out of her house. Because she wouldn’t have room for all of her books in her new place, she gave the majority of them to me. So far, I’ve only read a few but this year, I plan to read all of them and review the ones that I like. That’s one of my resolutions for 2022.
When I first got my aunt’s collection, one of the first books that I came across was a paperback called The Books of Rachel. The cover featured a beautiful woman with a lovely necklace, a man fencing, and a couple kissing. The blurb promised that Joel Gross’s The Books of Rachel was “exciting, tragic, colorful!” That’s all I needed to see! I read the book and I liked it so much that I went on Amazon to see what else Joel Gross had written. That’s when I came across the prequel to The Books of Rachel, The Lives of Rachel. Of course, I immediately ordered a copy of that book and read it as well.
The Books of Rachel was first published in 1979. The Lives of Rachel was published in 1984. Taken together, these two books tell the epic story of one family, following them from ancient Judea all the way to 1980s New York. Though the family is frequently forced to relocate and each section of the book takes place in a different country and in a different century, a few things remain the same. There is always a Rachel. Whenever a Rachel passes, the first daughter to be born after her is given the name and becomes the heiress to centuries of strength, faith, and struggle. They also, eventually, become the owner of a flawless, 60-carat diamond, the Cuheno Diamond. The other thing that remains true is that, no matter where or when the individual Rachels may live, they do so under the shadow of the oldest of all prejudices and evils. From the ancient Romans to the Spanish Inquisition to the fascists and Nazis of post-World War I Europe, anti-Semitism is the one constant that every evil in the world tends to share.
There are many different Rachels. Some are kind. Some are innocent. Some are less kind and some are definitely not innocent. But what they all have in common is that they’re willing to fight, for themselves, for their family, and ultimately for their people. For all of the sex and the melodrama (and, make no mistake, there is quite a bit and that’s definitely a good thing), The Books of Rachel and The Lives of Rachel are a tribute to survival, inner strength, and the faith and legacy of a people who would not allow themselves to be defeated. With everything going on in the world today and so many prominent people openly embracing anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering, the lessons of these books are even more needed than ever.
Finally, another reason why I loved these books is because, as I’ve mentioned many times on the site, I am a total history nerd and these books are historical fiction at their finest. The books are obviously very well-researched and the attention to detail makes them a wonderful read for those us who are interested in how life was once lived.
They’re good books. I recommend them. We can all learn from the Rachels.