THE SEVENTH HANDMAIDEN tells the story of Darya, a young slave who serves Queen Esther. She is a wife of King Achashverosh of Persia, during the fifth century BCE. The king is also known by his Greek name: Xerxes.
Set against the vivid backdrop of a world of discord and uprising, the novel follows Darya as she grows to womanhood and tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding her early years and how she became a slave. After her first master is killed during the Persian wars with Greece, she is sold to the palace where she suffers beatings at the hands of a cruel slave master. She is saved when circumstances allow her to become one of Queen Esther’s seven handmaidens. A compassionate young woman with a thirst for learning, Darya studies and questions the highly diverse but often unjust world of the sprawling Persian Empire. She is drawn to David, assistant to Mordechai, a Judean courtier, and she strives to protect those she comes to respect and love when they are endangered. Through it all, as her hidden past is slowly revealed, Darya struggles to understand her purpose and place in this world and to fulfill whatever destiny awaits her.
THE SEVENTH HANDMAIDEN explores themes of friendship and loyalty, of prejudice and persecution, of slavery and freedom, of love and loss, and, perhaps most importantly, of perseverance and survival. It also examines the challenges faced by women in ancient times, and highlights how they affected their world, despite all the limitations surrounding them.
The story of Queen Esther is told in the Megillah (the Scroll) that is read annually during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The Megillah tells a great deal about Esther and mentions that seven handmaidens were assigned to serve her in the palace. I began wondering who these girls might have been. What was their story? And that is how THE SEVENTH HANDMAIDEN was born.
It took at least six years to research and write this story because teachers do not have much free time for activities other than teaching. Once the novel was completed, it took about six more years for it to find a publisher. That came about because Wendie S., the librarian at the school where I taught, encouraged me to submit the manuscript to the Association of Jewish Libraries. It won the 2018 AJL Manuscript Award; PJ Our Way asked to read it; they submitted it to Green Bean Books; and the manuscript became a novel.
THE SEVENTH HANDMAIDEN was published by Green Bean Books, an imprint of Greenhill Books of London, in January, 2021.
It was offered as a PJ Our Way selection at the same time.