Rav Hisda’s Daughter, vol 1: Apprentice

Most novels seem to take textiles for granted; that is, they’re just part of the background and one doesn’t need to think about where they come from, even though in pre-industrial-revolutionary societies, the production of textiles is part of everyday life. (From what I can tell, at least.)

It is therefore a pleasure when I come across a novel which has textile production at least given a mention, and a joy when it’s really woven (ha! that wasn’t on purpose) into the story.

Rav Hisda’s Daughter, by Maggie Anton, is somewhere in between.

A little background: It’s set in Persia, in the time after after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s based on stories from the Talmud. There are Jews who follow Rabbis and there are Jews who don’t. Christianity is still in its early stages. I haven’t double-checked the dates yet, but I think Islam doesn’t exist yet. The Persians are Zoroastrian and the Romans are not yet a Christian empire.

I don’t think any of the rest of what I’m writing is spoilers, but I’m going to put the rest behind a link just in case.

It’s not one of my favorite books ever, but I will be reading the sequels.

The foreground of the story is about men’s and women’s roles in Judaism at the time, about marriage, and about sorcery and magic. It’s not clear whether the latter are actually meant to be working. However, the story is written in first person, and it’s clear that Hisdadukh believes in magic.

Hisdadukh learns to spin. There’s a point in the story where she and a group of other women go watch something exciting, and they all grab their spindles and distaves because they can still do that work while they watch the spectacle. (This fits with what I know about cultures where spinning is needed.) Later, she learns to weave red silk ribbons, and uses them in her other work.

The Silk Road is also in the background of the story, along with beautiful descriptions of silk textiles.