The Jewish Eye
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - September 24, 2009
Elvina's Mirror is the second book in Sylvie Weil's Elvina trilogy that began with My Guardian Angel. The story follows the adventures of a 14-year-old Jewish girl who lives in Troyes, France. What makes this story unique is that the year is 1097, the Crusades are in full swing, and European Jewry lives in constant danger. As well, although this story is fictional, the Elvina in this story is based upon a real person. The real-life Elvina, like the Elvina of this story, was the granddaughter of the famed scholar and Talmudic commentator, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, who is perhaps best known by the simple title, Rashi. Elvina was educated in Jewish law and had a wide knowledge of medicinal and herbal remedies. She is even mentioned in a commentary on the Talmud!
In this installment in Elvina's story, a German Jewish family who was forcibly baptized by Crusaders, arrives in Troyes. While most of the members of the Jewish community in Troyes spurn the family, Elvina soon finds herself making friends with Columba, the family's eleven-year-old daughter. Showing true compassion, and her strength of character, Elvina begins to secretly help the family, including using her medical knowledge to help cure Columba's cousin Ephraim of the terrible nightmares that he suffers from, a legacy of having witnessed his family being burned to death. During the course of this story we learn about the terrible massacres of Jews that occurred in Germany during this period, and how many families, such as Columba's, were fortunate to escape from Germany with their lives. We also learn about Jewish religious practices and beliefs, and what life was like for Jews in medieval Europe during this period.
Elvina's Mirror, like the other books in this trilogy, was originally written and published in French, and were expertly translated into English by Weil. These stories paint a vivid picture of Jewish life in medieval Europe, and also provide a gripping and memorable story that will resonate with both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. These stories also introduce young readers, ages ten and up, to an often overlooked, yet pivotal period, in Jewish history.
You do not have to read My Guardian Angel before reading Elvina's Mirror. This is because Elvina's Mirror begins with a brief overview of what happened in My Guardian Angel, bringing readers who did not yet read the first book, up-to-date on the story. There is also a list of all the main characters in the story, along with a short description of each character. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. It is also a book that should be available in all school and public libraries.
The books in the Elvina trilogy are:
- Le Mazal d'Elvina (My Guardian Angel)
- Le Miroir d'Elvina (Elvina's Mirror)
- Elvina et la fille du roi Salomon (This volume has not yet been published in English)
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- Reconstructing Ashkenaz: The Human Face of Franco-German Jewry, 1000-1250, by David Malkiel.
A detailed history on Franco-German Jewry during the High Middle Ages, centered upon the First Crusade of 1096 and the associated, devastating massacres, which decimated German Jewish communities.
- The War Within, by Carol Matas.
A fictional account of Jewish life during the American Civil War that centers around General Grant's expulsion of Jews from the Department of the Tennessee (a military administrative district).
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