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The Book of Splendor
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The Book of Splendor

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  182 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Frances Sherwood brings to life the experience of the Jewish community during a period of oppression and rebirth. Set in seventeenth-century Prague, The Book of Splendor is an adventure-filled romance stocked with court intrigue and political tension, including the machinations of the rival Ottoman Empire, the religious controversies of Protestantism, and the constant thre...more
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Published July 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 12th 2002)
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Johnny
The Book of Splendor is a pretty book, as pretty as the references within to Albrecht Durer’s Garland of Roses or Tintoretto’s Susanna Bathing. I loved lines like, “His whole short life seemed a waste commensurate with his size.” (p. 354) For me, it is not a “splendid” book, though it is named after the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, tied to the Kabbalah. [Note: I’m not a student of the Kabbalah, so pardon me if I have misunderstood the relationship of Zohar and Kabbalah.] One would have thought a...more
David
Jews in 1601 Prague? If this sounds like a historical novel to you think again. Sherwood begins this novel as a historical novel and then weaves in a touch of fantasy, some spiritual food for thought, some historical data, and finally as story that is educational while it is entertaining the reader. In other words, this novel is a magnificent blend of fact, fiction, and culture. It is fascinating to read the Jewish culture, the eccentric rulers, the clever charlatan, the plight of the peasants,...more
Graham
I liked THE BOOK OF SPLENDOUR a lot. Frances Sherwood isn't afraid to inject some fantastical elements - i.e. the creation of a living, breathing golem, a man made entirely from clay - to make the story far more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

The portrait of a Prague some four hundred years ago is superb - and the themes of segregation, love, death and madness are all dealt with explicitly yet warmly within the novel. I'll admit to knowing little of Jewish history before I read th...more
R.J.
A beautiful story at the start about a young Jewish woman who marries during a troubled, dangerous time in Prague of the distant past--The ending was unresolved for me and so I didn't enjoy this as much as I've enjoyed other Sherwood novels.
Karen
An interesting book, partly historical fiction combining a look at Prague during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, especially the city's Jewish quarter, with the Golem Legend. As I read, I assumed that the story was mostly fiction, combining romance and Jewish mysticism with a bit of history, but upon finishing the book, I decided to do a bit of research to find out how much of the book might actually be true. I was surprised to find out that Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler were actual...more
Carol
This book is set in 1601, in Prague. It concerns the inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto (the Judenstadt), the Habsburg emperor Rudolph II, several other historical people, and the interactions among them. The Jewish community faces a threat from the rest of Prague, the Rabbi Judah ben Loew creates a golem to protect them, and the emperor pursues a mad plot to become immortal that involves the likes of John Dee, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and eventually the Rabbi. Meanwhile, Rochel, an orphan an...more
Joshua Woodward
I did not dislike this book but at the same time I was glad that it was over so that I could start on something new. There are some great insights into the lives of 16th and 17th century Jews, Catholics, and Protestants, but unless you favor the study of history, you will most likely find this book lacking. Yes there is a love story and the characters are enjoyable (particularly the character of Vaclav) but unless you are a history buff, you will most likely find yourself endlessly looking up je...more
Beverly
Prague in the 1800's. Rochel an outcast in the Jewish ghetto, is married to the shoemaker. She and her grandmother managed to live by being seamstresses for the emperor. When her grandmother died, the Rabbi and his wife arranged her marriage. The Jews lived very precarious lives. They heard a rumor that the ghetto was going to be attacked. In order to protect the people, the Rabbi creates a golem. The emperor wants to live forever and hires two men to find the secret. Most stories about golems p...more
Maggie
Given that we'd just visited Prague (and specifically the Judenstat, in honour of my husbands' great-grandfather), a fascinating read. Sherwood adds huge amounts of historical detail, from the interior of the Altneu Synagogue to the stinking halls of the Castle. Several characters are drawn from historical accounts - Tycho Brahe indeed died of a burst bladder - but the main characters are overblown and a bit caricaturish. Sherwood's descriptive passages are either lush and sumptuous or tedious a...more
Debbie Stahl
Read for my Jewish book club. Very interesting historically and culturally. Based on some true characters such as Rabbi Lowe, the tzaddik who created Yossel the golem to protect the Jewish people, and Emporer Rudlph II, the immortality obsessed, lunatic. I learned a lot and enjoyed the book. Well written
Sharyn
The Book of Splendor is a historical novel with mystical undertones. Set in Prague in 1601, Rudolph II, The Holy Roman Emperor desires to be immortal. He invites the alchemist John Dee and his associate Edward Kelley to come from England to make him an elixir that will grant him immortality. The astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler are also at court. Meanwhile in the Jewish section Rabbi Judah Loew creates a Golem to help protect the Jews from a pogrom. In addition there is a love story t...more
Dawn
With a trip to Prague ahead of me this year I decided to read a book based in the city.
It is set in the 17th century, when the Jewish lived in their own ghetto, protected in some degree by the emperor Rudolph II. The story follows Rochel, orphan and newlywed, as she settles into married life and Rudolph II, in his quest for immortality. Along the way there is political intrigue, religious zealotry and the creation of a golem.
This book did not engage me. The characters and the world were like ha...more
Ariel
I love Prague under Rudolph II, the wacky monarch who was into alchemy, astrology, and pretty much anything else. It really is true that Rudolf's court included John Dee, the English alchemist, and his creepy assistant Edward Kelley who supposedly communicated with angels, AND at the same time the Maharal (Reb Judah Loew) was living in Prague's Judenstadt and supposedly creating the Golem. But it is a pretty picked over historical moment for me at this point between The Cabinet of Wonders by Mar...more
LCPL Lake County (IN) Public Library
"Through the early 1800s the tallgrass prairie began north and west of the Wabash river in Indiana and covered most of Illinois and Iowa and parts of Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, with bits in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Ohio. Early settlers who were accustomed to the heavily wooded west coast were astounded when they viewed tallgrass in historical perspective and introduces readers to the native flora and fauna of this region. After two hundred years of development, there i...more
John
An historical novel of startling imagination, ever-ready humor, and sumptuous humanity. Frances Sherwood reinvents Prague at the dawn of the the 17th Century, and in particular its legendary Jewsih Quarter. She creates an Old-World version of the melting pot, in which the the unseen world too goes into the mix, in the form of spell-casting, alchemy, and a ghetto-protecting golem. Sherwood's world is never merely a fantasy, afflicted with moral quandaries and physical threats quite painfully real...more
Dawn
A compelling story, but the mysticism took me by surprise and made it a bit unsettling for me. As a recent traveler to Prague, the author really brought the ancient city alive to me. I wish I would have finished reading the book before my visit. The book renewed my love for the Jewish people and their traditions and gave me a greater sadness over all the suffering they have endured over the centuries, particularly at the hands of Christians who should know better. I would read another book by th...more
Maria
I consider Philosophy, Theology, and Mythology to be very interesting and this novel includes them all. Besides, it is also a love story. Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, the organization of the writing was sometimes confusing. For instance, after talking about the Emperor's desire to be immortal, the next chapter would begin with the Rabbi in Judenstadt. This is a great book on Jewish folklore and the opression of the Jewish people in Prague during the seventeeth century. Overall, I...more
Carmen
Set in 1600 to 1601 in Prague. A Jewish girl is highlighted in this story. Grateful to be married because she has no dowry she sews for her shoemaker husband. Somehow they attract the attention of the emperor and he tries to bed Rochel. It doesn't work. Her community saves her. But then her community lets her down and tries to kill her when the Catholic part of Prague decides enough is enough and wants to decimate the Jews. They blame her because she had an affair while she was married. Names li...more
Susie Sigel
I just could not get into the story so it took me about 3 months of leaving it in my porch and reading a few pages at a time. It was like a prose Chagall. Lots of magical realism and characters and not much plot
Emily
Nov 06, 2007 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like history/ fantasy soup
Shelves: booksofthepast
This book carried me away from the present, which I love. I arrived to 17th century Prague, where the emperor is crazy, the Holy Roman Empire is trembling with the threat of decomposition, and the Jews find their safety constantly in jeopardy. It's a story of unlikely lovers, traditions both brutal and beautiful, and structures of power that frustrate me to no end. While there were moments of artistic jumble that could easily be mistaken for incoherence (maybe rightly so), I enjoyed this book.
Chris
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kyra
This started off really really slow but by the time I was halfway through I was totally hooked. Set in early 17th century Prague, this book includes a crazy Hapsburg emperor, a learned rabbi, Tycho Brahe complete with silver nose, Kepler, Dr John Dee,a beautiful blond Jewess and a golem. Largely historical and semi-fantastical, all the various sub-plots finally come together to a riveting conclusion. A rare find indeed from the Clatskanie Public Library.
I think Bianka would like it.
Phair
I can't really recommend this as a "good read". To me the style was too convoluted -maybe the disjointed story was supposed to be reflective of the Emperor's madness?? Anyway- I was drawn by the similarity of the plot to one of my favorites: Marge Piercy's He, She and It which also follows the story of the Golem of Prague. Apart from some interesting historical characters (Brahe, Keppler, Dee) this was pretty much a dud for me and it was a slog to even finish it.
Mary
After putting it aside for a week I tried it again. This time I read with a different perspective. Reading it as historical fiction I must admit to learning a lot about Prague in 1601...how they lived, what they ate, medicine, education, class society...actually quite interesting and I grew fond of the golem. The ending was so so, all in all an okay summer read.
Mimi
My first introduction to golems (of the non-Tolkien type) was a beautiful episode of "The X-Files" - a show I didn't even watch regularly. Since then, they've turned up now and then in my reading. This story interweaves the Jewish community of early 17th century Prague, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, the emperor, and a golem and somehow it all works.
Valissa
"We must talk only of cheerful things, not mourn, not fear. Give the world a chance. On this one day, it is perfect." [Shabbat]

"Not that she ever had or would have any occasion to try His patience, yet His retribution seemed excessive, and even the innocent paid dearly."

"Kirakos is cynical, and perhaps that is a kind of evil, a failure of the heart"
Courtney Andresen
I wouldn't call this a 'fun' book but it was definitely an interesting book with all the history blended with fantasy. Most intriguing was the relationship between Rochel and the golem. I kept getting this picture in my head of the golem kind of looking like Gumby with human features. That made their interactions even more amusing to me!
Janellyn51
I liked this book. For some reason I kept finding and reading books that have stuff about the Plague. I found the stuff about the flagellists interesting. I've always been somewhat intrigued about jewish mysticism so I found that aspect of it interesting. I'll probably never get to Prague so I found it interesting reading about that city.
Neelz
17th century Prague: rabbi creates golem to protect Jews from murderous priest + mob; emperor obsessed with quest for immortality; young Jewish woman falls in love with golem. Not bad, but also not good. I wouldn't recommend this to fans of Rashi's Daughters; it will disappoint them.
Sarah
A historical romance novel basically, though a pretty good one. I do think though that the author rushed through the ending, after spending chapters exhaustively detailing some things, glazed over what should have been the really exciting climax of the novel.
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