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The Folger Spotlight

Words, Words, Words: 'The Weight of Ink' by Rachel Kadish

The Folger’s virtual book club, Words, Words, Words continues on Thursday, February 3 with a discussion of Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this time-traveling scholarly mystery.

What is The Weight of Ink about?

Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, The Weight of Ink is about women separated by centuries–and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

Critical Reception

“From Shakespeare’s Dark Lady to Spinoza’s philosophical heresies, Kadish leaves no stone unturned in this moving historical epic. Chock-full of rich detail and literary intrigue.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In many ways a book about books, The Weight of Ink sur­pris­es with delights that are grad­u­al­ly revealed . . . the read­er will become absorbed in this rich opus of impres­sive breadth.”—Jewish Book Council

“A superb and wonderfully imaginative reconstruction of the intellectual life of a Jewish woman in London during the time of the Great Plague.” —Times Higher Education 

National Jewish Book Award winner and an Amazon Best Book of the Year

Why did we pick this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

The Weight of Ink features a scholarly mystery such as those that are often undertaken within the Folger’s own collections, as well as exploring a changing London only one generation removed from Shakespeare’s lifetime.

About the author: Rachel Kadish
From her website

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels The Weight of Ink, From a Sealed Room, and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times, Ploughshares, and Tin House, and has been anthologized in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and elsewhere.

She has been a fiction fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, has received the National Jewish Book Award, the Association of Jewish Libraries Fiction Award, and the John Gardner Fiction Award, and was the Koret Writer-in-Residence at Stanford University.

She lives outside Boston and teaches in Lesley University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Meet our Bookshop Partner: Capitol Hill Books

For this session, we are excited to partner with Capitol Hill Books in Eastern Market. A used bookstore located on historic Capitol Hill in Washington DC, this local treasure features three floors of quality used books along with a selection of new titles, first editions, and rare books.

Orders can be placed through

You can also download the audiobook version of this title from

Make a plan to join us on Thursday, February 3 to discuss The Weight of Ink. Visit our website to register and stay tuned for additional Folger resources to enrich the conversation.

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program: