Feisty writing women have a date with Ephraim… I’ll be reading from The Extraordinary Dr Epstein, a chapter included in the anthology Notes on a Page launched Saturday 3 December, 2 – 4 pm at Richmond Library in west London. He’s alongside short stories, memoir, lyrics, poetry… tea & cake too!
…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.
… 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
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.
A letter from home at last, but it was bordered with black, the only words: ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!’ At the bottom his parents names and the numbers 1829 – 1853: the dates of Ephraim’s birth and his revealed conversion to Christianity. They had declared him dead.
The room spun and he gripped the sides of the wooden chair he sat in. Trembling, he gathered his scarf and hat and hurried down the staircase into the biting air of gray November. He walked fast, blindly. He sped on, driven by grief, by horror: what had he done? He had found his own God. And now his parents had severed him.
Having successfully begun at seminary in Chapter 11, At Andover, Ephraim breaks down in health and mind at his family’s reaction to his conversion. He learns new lessons in endurance, finding support in the household of his teacher, Professor Calvin Stowe, and Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Will Ephraim see his wife and daughter again? When I am a physician, he vows, then I will rescue them.
though still raw, were welcomed with almost as much joy in Harrison as his erudition and possibly even his conversion. Side by side with Brother Solomon and others he worked the hundred acres. All the while,
every day, every evening, they studied, read, debated, interpreted. Linguistic disputation, phrase-by-phrase, sometimes word-by-word, discussion, the passionate rationality of Talmudic debate turned with all its strength to the New Testament. In the talk and learning, this inner exploration and pushing out of boundaries, this freedom to question everything, Ephraim experienced the pure oxygen of encouragement.
And so, in Chapter 10, Melioration, Ephraim spends three years among Hebrew Christians until he is rewarded with an offer of medical school — on one condition. ‘I wrote to Mama and Papa to tell them I am a Christian. I pray it doesn’t kill her.’
‘You think my faith cannot hold its own? My intellect?’ Anger made Ephraim’s voice harsh, and then ironic. ‘I dare say I can emerge from a Christian service unscathed.’ The way was wider here and they easily walked abreast, thumping their improvised walking sticks, walking fast in the competitiveness of friends. He told Benjamin another road story from the Shermans’ Bible. And so they made a bet. On the next day, which was Sunday, if they found themselves in sight of a church, they would attend it.
Curiosity, challenge… the two Jewish friends on a summer break in New Jersey, 1851, egg each other on. In Chapter 9, The Road to Metuchen, they have an encounter that will change their lives forever.