In Jerusalem in 1911 under the backward Ottoman rule, the feisty Esther begins a life-long struggle between her passion for art and her society’s strict religion. As her talent for art hurls her to secretly explore worlds outside her religion, city and the Holy Land—and the allure of the one man forbidden to her—she faces the bitter question: to whom must she be true, to God or to herself?
Esther Kaminsky knows that her duty is to marry young and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah’s arrival: that is what expected of young ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem at the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule. But when her French teacher catches Esther's extraordinary doodling and gives her colored pencils and art lessons, Esther wonders if God has a special destiny for her: maybe she is meant to be an artist, not a mother; maybe she is meant to travel to Paris, not stay in Jerusalem.
In the coming years, as Esther sacrifices her yearning for painting and devotes herself instead to following God’s path as an obedient “Jerusalem maiden,” she suppresses her desires—until a surprising opportunity forces itself into her pre-ordained path. When her beliefs clash with the surging passions she has staved off her entire life, Esther must confront the hard questions: What is faith? Is there such thing as destiny? And to whom must she be true, to God or to herself?
Esther’s hand raced over the paper as if the colored pencils might be snatched from her, the quivering inside her wild, foreign, thrilling. All this time she hadn’t known that “blue” was actually seven distinct shades, each with its own name—azure, Prussian, cobalt, cerulean, sapphire, indigo, lapis. She pressed the waxy pencils on the paper, amazed by the emerging hues: the ornaments curving on the Armenian vase were lapis; the purplish contours of the Jerusalem mountains were shrouded by indigo evening clouds. In this stolen hour at Mademoiselle Thibaux’s dining-room table, she could draw without being scolded for committing the sin of idleness, God forbid.
A pale gecko popped up on the chiseled stone of the windowsill and scanned the room with staccato movements until it met Esther’s gaze. Her fingers moving in a frenzy, she drew the gecko’s raised body, its tilted head, its dark orbs focused on her. She studied the translucency of the skin of the valiant creature that kept kitchens free of roaches. How did God paint their fragility? She picked up a pink-gray pencil and traced the fine scales. They lay flat on the page, colorless. She tried the lightest brown—
Her hand froze. What was she thinking? A gecko was an idol, the kind pagans worshipped. God knew, at every second, what every Jew was doing for His name. He observed her now, making this graven image, explicitly forbidden by the Second Commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.... [Cont. reading at: http://www.taliacarner.com/jm_chapter1.html ]