Note: I was given a free ebook version of this book for the purpose of reviewing.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
Following the lives of three women in the east coast of Australia, The Wizardry of Jewish Women examines love, family, and the relationships in between, inter-weaved with a mystical power that stretches across generations.
Rhonda lives many lives, all of them online. Between writing history and fanfiction, she occasionally suffers bouts of prophecy, earning her internet fame as the next Nostradamus, which she doggedly tries to hide from at all costs.
Judith is the exhausted single mother, trying to reign in her children’s whims while staving off the dark secrets of her past. Her sister Belinda opens up a gate to their ancestors, through the retrieval of their mysterious great-grandmothers box.
This book is a slow but careful exploration of the domestic lives of these women, each touched by a force beyond understanding.
For Judith, this comes with becoming more acquainted with her Jewish heritage, studying the spells and recipes her great-grandmother Ada left behind, with her daughter Zoe and her son, ‘honorary-woman’, Nick. This Jewish wizardry is distinctly feminine, enacted through spells, amulets and curses. Rather than being presented as a grand spectacle, the magic here is presented as almost common-place, a natural extension of the domestic sphere in which Judith and her family operates. Protection charms are cast without fanfare, as if they were merely washing the dishes. Even the arrival of the Angel of Death is dealt with quietly, treated with friendly hospitality and sent on his way. It makes for more believable magic than flashy spells and fire hands.
On the other side of the spectrum, Rhonda’s prophecies situate her firmly in the internet age, switching between chat rooms and message boards, forming friendships with people from around the world. Much like Judith, Rhonda’s magic arrives with little flourish, poured from her during trance-like blackouts, which she unleashes upon the internet to do what they will. Reclusive Rhonda straddles the line between wanting to use her ability to help, while trying to hide her identity to avoid being labelled crazy or a fraud. Her plotline firmly ponders the problem of unreal abilities in a realistic world.
The men in their lives serve as both the cause of and relief from their problems, from creepy authority figures and abusive exes, to supportive love interests who seem almost too good to be true. It’s refreshing to have such an unashamedly feminine focus, pushing men to the sidelines for once.
Overall, this book drops you into both storylines gently, playing out the events of these women’s lives reminiscent of classic ‘slice of life’ fiction. It’s magic realism that tricks you into thinking you’re reading straight up contemporary fiction. A delightful journey that leaves you wanting more.