Book Review: The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

February 17, 2011

I got this book for free as part of the TLC Book Tour promotion.
The publisher has made available one (1) copy of “The Fifth Servant” to be given out- enter at the end of the post.

Book Review: The Fifth Servant by Kenneth WishniaMy rating for “The Fifth Servant” – 5

About:
“The Fifth Servant” by Kenneth Wishnia (Website) is a fictional mystery set in 1592 at Jewish Ghetto in the city of Prague. The book is rich with Jewish culture and the tensions between Jews and Christians.

Get a discount on “The Fifth Servant” through the ManOfLaBook affiliate account on:
Amazon |Book Depository US | Book Depository UK

Thoughts:
“The Fifth Servant” by Kenneth Wishnia is told through the eyes of Benyamin Ben Akivah, a Talmudic scholar who follows his disgruntled wife from Poland to Prague. The book takes place over three days and two nights when Benyamin tries to solve a blood libel incident which weighed down the Jewish communities up until the 20th Century.

This is a clever book, filled with excellent research, vivid imagery, and good writing sprinkled with humor. The medieval ghetto life is convincing and rich in detail, city of Prague comes to life even though it wouldn’t be a place I’d want to live in (especially not at that time). While the book is a mystery it is not formulaic and uses a new and unique voice which examines the ancient Jewish texts like the bible, Talmud, Torah, Kabbalah and to my joy The Book of Zohar to tell the story.

There are many conflicts in the book, not only between Jews and Christians but also between rich and poor, men and women, freethinking rabbis and their conservative counterparts as well as leaders of the Christian church who see the role of the inquisition as fleshing out heretics and those who are just a bit too happy to use it as an excuse to torture Jews and take their fortune (splitting it between the emperor and the Church as was the costume).

I liked the way that Mr. Wishnia imagined how people in the 16th Century thought. Women, who were part of the community, had to do things in secret even though they were pillars of the community. There is great insight on how Jews were persecuted and the struggles they faced. However, the author uses these adversities to highlight the Jewish spirit and perseverance.

There are many characters in the book but and they are all very well drawn. Besides the protagonist a standout characters was Anya, a bright Christian girl, daughter of a butcher as well as Sheriff Zizska of Prague, Rabbi Loew and even Emperor Rudolph II made an appearance.

While I truly enjoyed this book, it is not for everyone (but really, what book is?). The book is filled with my kind of humor, sarcastic, self deprecating and sardonic however it is not a light or easy read. This book will most likely appeal to those interested in Jewish history, Jewish folklore and/or the time period.

There are many Hebrew, Yiddish and some German words/phrases peppered throughout the book, the author does translate the important ones and also includes and excellent glossary at the end to assist the readers.

Synopsis:
Benyamin Ben Akivah is a shamash, the caretaker of a temple, and new to the Jewish community. Benyamin is not only a scholar but a proud Jew with a temper which he finds difficult to control. When a Christian girl’s body is found in the ghetto just before Passover Benyamin must prove to the Christian community that it is a blood libel case before the ghetto is destroyed.

Working together with the freethinker Rabbi Lowe they must work fast while keeping the Jewish laws and restrictions regarding the holiday of Passover.

Get a discount on “The Fifth Servant” through the ManOfLaBook affiliate account on:
Amazon |Book Depository US | Book Depository UK

Rules:

  • Contest is for one (1) new copy of “The Fifth Servant”.
  • There will be ONE (1) WINNER
  • Must be a US / Canada mailing Address
  • Ends Thursday February 24, 2011
  • Winners will be chosen using Random.org
  • Winners will have 24 hours after my initial contact to write back their mailing address, otherwise alternate winners will be picked

Congratulations: truebookaddict@

TLC Book Tour for “The Fifth Servant”:

  1. Tuesday, February 8th: Raging Bibliomania
  2. Wednesday, February 9th: My Two Blessings
  3. Thursday, February 10th: Coffee and a Book Chick
  4. Monday, February 14th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
  5. Thursday, February 17th: Man of la Book
  6. Friday, February 18th: Chaotic Compendiums
  7. Wednesday, February 23rd: The Lost Entwife
  8. Thursday, February 23rd: In the Next Room
  9. Thursday, February 24th: Book Journey
  10. Monday, February 28th: Wordsmithonia
  11. Wednesday, March 2nd: Rundpinne

Zohar – Man of la Book

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Published at Mysteries In Paradise

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7 Comments

  • Robin February 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Great review. I liked the book for all the same reasons. It was very well done. No need to enter me in your contest.

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours February 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I didn’t realize that the action in the story takes place over such a short time – surprising to me since the book is a bit on the long side. Still, I love learning history via novels so I really think this is the perfect book for me.

    Thanks so much for being on the tour and for such a great review!

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting February 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    This book sounds fabulous–exactly the sort of thing I’d enjoy (particularly after just having finished reading a few historical mysteries myself). Thanks for the review, Zohar. I’ve added it to my TBR!

  • Ryan February 20, 2011 at 2:16 am

    I’m just getting ready to start on this one so I appreciate reading your thoughts on it.

  • Sharie March 28, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I have been looking for a some good Jewish historical fiction books. Thanks for this review! 🙂

  • Tricia January 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Sounds really interesting!

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