Dinners and parties,


… concerts, lectures and dances. Ephraim had looks, intelligence, bright liveliness, he was a linguist, a scholar, physician, he told fascinating tales of America and Turkey… and he was unmarried. Through friends and medical colleagues he was introduced to sisters and daughters whenever he socialized. He met pretty women, and intelligent women, and pretty, intelligent women. But though he laughed, waltzed and conversed, he was not drawn to anyone. He realized he had lived so long as a married man with and without Rachel that he did not know how to fall in love.

Divorced from his cousin-wife, in Chapter 19, Fierce as a Leopard, Light as an Eagle, Ephraim is in Vienna, 1863-66. He’s a physician in the prestigious Vienna General Hospital and stuck back in Europe and Judaism because of the promise to his mother. But this restless man will soon drive himself to yet another drastic life change.


She explains…

Well, well the great granddaughter/author is talking about me again. Here in this interview and live on 16th June at Richmond Adult Community College http://www.racc.ac.uk Events.

The way she describes my life and times — as if it were an adventure!

‘Given up Christianity!’

The shock and relief in Rachel’s voice forced Ephraim’s eyes back to her, and he explained.

Heiliggeistkirche in Heidelberg  2003 Christian Bienia

Heiliggeistkirche in Heidelberg 2003 Christian Bienia

‘No. I have given up missionary work. I have arranged to pay off my obligation to the Society with Zayde’s inheritance.’

‘What? That is our money, my money! How much?’

‘It’s from my half.’

‘What will you do in America?’ Rachel’s voice softened into curiosity, moving on from outrage to consideration of married life without proselytizing.

And so… will his difficult wife go with Ephraim back to America? Or will he manage to get free of her? Ah, but in Chapter 18, The Get, dear Mama forces another option that results in a no and a yes. Ephraim consults his soul in this grand church which at the time (1862) was divided down the middle, half protestant, half Roman Catholic. Split, like him, between Judaism and Christianity. Which way to go?

Pale, small, frail,

Heidelberg Castle ruins, Carl Philipp Fohr

Heidelberg Castle ruins, Carl Philipp Fohr

…for the briefest of moments Ephraim did not recognize her, and then — ‘Mama!’ He flung his arms around his heart’s balm, bowing his head to kiss her tear-wet cheeks as she murmured his name. They pulled apart and Ephraim extended his hands toward his father, and then surprised himself by hugging Papa, too, and found the hug returned. And then, hovering half-hidden, a graceful, blonde, blue-eyed fourteen-year-old, Ephraim’s daughter: Sarah.

‘Papa.’ She bobbed a little curtsy and blushed.

Reconciliation at last, not in Belarus but in Heidelberg, Germany. In Chapter 17, Ephraim Feeds on the Wind, Grandfather’s death brings Dr Epstein and his wife out of Turkey and into the loving arms of his family. While he rejoices to be with his daughter Ephraim encounters new strains on his difficult marriage and new pressures on his faith.

Isolating existing cases…

…was paramount. They set up beds, carried in the sick, and, under Ephraim’s direction Rachel and the helpers ministered to them, sponging, cooling, getting liquids into them. There was no point in bleeding or cupping. At first ten a day died. After a week this slowed to four a day. By the end of a month, it was four a week. Those who survived were scarred, disfigured with pitted pocks all over the face where massage room at Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar. GJ Gordon. wellcome.ac.uk (2)the vicious disease always manifested most strongly. Some were blinded by smallpox, some crippled by its effect on joints. Overall a third of those infected would die. Among children Ephraim knew eighty per cent would die.

Ephraim is called to Macedonia to help in a smallpox outbreak. In Chapter 16, Epidemic, Rachel proves herself a worthy, skilful, kind assistant in the horrific and sad work. As the epidemic fades he has new respect for her. Despite her previous betrayals, perhaps the marriage can work…

Writing from Life

The extraordinary Ephraim Epstein is pleased, nay astonished, to have the writing of his life story discussed in Chiswick, London on Tuesday 15 March 2016, 6.30 – 8 pm. Great granddaughter-author Susan Lee Kerr joins local author Diane Chandler (The Road to Donetsk) to converse about putting fascinating ancestors and fantastic life experiences into a novel. Do come along.

12 Turnham Green Terrace, London W4 1QP

12 Turnham Green Terrace, London W4 1QP

She’d been cruel,

… perfidious, in preventing Sarah from coming. Why? To hurt him? To beat him in one of their petty battles? He could hardly imagine the possibility that Rachel wished to have him all to herself. Perhaps it was to punish him for the years of so-called widowhood.

Jewish, Bulgarian & Muslim women in Ottoman Saloniki, 1873

Jewish, Bulgarian & Muslim women in Ottoman Saloniki, 1873

After all, he in the first place had left Rachel and Sarah behind. But when it came to ‘in the first place’ it was his grandfather, Zayde, who had made them marry and created this mess. The buts and ifs and accusations chased through his head and he knew he would continue to tolerate his wife. He had to, it was his duty.

Ephraim is furious over two betrayals by his wife. In Chapter 15, The Taste of Learning, he learns she has prevented their daughter from joining them here in Turkey. And she has gossiped about the restrictions he has put on their conjugal life. What’s more, he is frustrated in his missionary work – and then he gets an order to move on.





My husband. Look at your beard!

They clasped hands. She wore dark green, and a lighter green bonnet, dark curls at her forehead, that creamy skin, hardly any wrinkles, those shining eyes. People surged around them, stevedores in baggy trousers, fezzed porters in kaftans.


Ephraim startled and looked to her left, to her right, tried to peer over her shoulder. ‘The porter promised to bring all the luggage,’ she said in the Belarusian of their youth.

‘But where is Sarah?’

‘In the end, she did not come.’ Rachel watched his stunned expression. ‘I am sorry. They kept her.’

It is 1860 and Ephraim has begun as a medical missionary in Saloniki, Turkey  (today Thessalonika, Greece), at last reuniting with the wife he left in Brest-Litovsk ten years earlier. In Chapter 14, A Man Shall Cleave Unto His Wife, the mis-matched couple try for love while Ephraim struggles to convert the local Sephardic Jews to Christianity. And he fumes: will he never be allowed to meet his 12-year-old daughter?

Two hundred students filled the stands …

…looking down at the revolving wooden operating table beneath the skylight high above, the patient already lying under white sheets; Ephraim and Burns adjusted their sightlines from the sixth tier. What would the surgery be?Laennec auscultating a TB patient, Paris, after T.Chartran wellcome.ac.uk

The buzz of speculation quieted as Dr Wood entered, his black silk gown fastened tightly at neck and wrist — modestly black, as he had no need to display its evidence of previous operations, unlike boastful surgeons so proud of their blood-stiffened whites. His house surgeon followed, wearing an everyday suit, its left buttonhole dangling a dozen or so waxed ligatures ready for service.

In Chapter 13 Ephraim continues and completes his three-year medical course, with training practice at Bellevue Hospital in New York, 1858-59. The surgery demo scene (thankfully not pictured above!) is historically true, as is Dr James Rushmore Wood (1813-1882). Medicine had a long way to go and Ephraim grows with it. But for now, the 29-year-old has to wait to learn what destiny his sponsors plan for him. My thanks for medical history and the image to the Wellcome Library. In 1860, a year after Ephraim’s graduation, the college changed its name to Columbia Medical School