book highlight: The Wolf and the Woodsman, by Ava Reid

The first time I heard about this book, I called my mom and told her about it. I thought this book would be everything I needed and more. I was right. I was sitting by the river when I started it, pen in hand. I knew I would be annotating this book a lot. Once again, I was right.

I read the first chapter and immediately felt it would be a 5-stars read. Sometimes you have to trust your heart. This book felt special right from the beginning, right from the first sentence (which, of course, I’ve underlined). I still don’t know how to write this review, to be quite honest. This book is so dear to me I’m scared I won’t do it justice or forget to talk about something.

This book is so profoundly Jewish it makes my heart ache. As a kid, I was obsessed with our stories. I had this children’s illustrated Torah that I took everywhere with me. I suppose I wanted to have a small part of my culture wherever I went. That’s how The Wolf and the Woodsman feels like to me. It speaks to my heart. It’s comforting. In a way, it’s home.

“All that talk of quiet obedience is for their benefit, not yours. They don’t need to go to the effort of striking you down if you’re already on your knees.”

Évike felt so real to me. I saw so much of myself in her, in her anger and hopes. She’s been pushed aside her entire feel because of her lack of magic. Seeing how poorly people treated her because of this was heartbreaking. Her emotional journey was amazing to read about because we can see how little she believed in herself when the book started. She slowly grows into her own kind of power and gets to learn more about her history. Seeing her accepting herself and allowing herself to feel something that’s not fueled by anger was incredible to read. She’s extremely fierce and strong, and seeing this side of her butting in with Gáspár’s softer side made my heart melt.

“I think I loved you then,” he says. “And I hated myself for it.”

Talking of Gáspár, his soft heart was everything to me. Both Évike and Gáspár have their own way to protect themselves from the world, but Gáspár never truly gave up on his soft side. It was well-hidden, only for the worthiest people to see. I have a thing for soft boys, so I know I’m biased, but I adore him. He has so much heart. He hates himself for falling for Évike. He hates himself so much for not being perfect, and this pains me. Gáspár, in my very humble opinion, is the heart of the book. Évike is the soul of it, but Gáspár is the heart.

“Survival is not a battle that you win only once. You must fight it again every day. And so you take small losses so that you can live to fight tomorrow.”

This book is also a commentary on diaspora. It was hard to read, but I believe it necessary, especially right now. There’s a particular part that I think is extremely important to read: when told they could leave and live in a place only for them, the Yehuli refuse. The pages that follow are extremely relevant as to what is happening to Palestinians. Although Yehuli’s history is clearly inspired by Jewish culture, the parallel with what Palestinians are going through is impossible not to see: they would be persecuted if they left, there would be laws to forbid them to own land, their houses would be burned, their people killed… don’t tell me this is not what’s happening. Not to be all political, but it also shows that what Israelis are doing to Palestinians is precisely what Jewish people went through. A never-ending cycle that needs to be broken.

“Our family has lived in Király Szek for six generations. We have served kings and counts. We have done everything from goldsmithing to street sweeping. We watched the city gates fall to Saint István’s enemies and then be built back up again; we saw his coronation and murmured about it in Old Régyar with the rest of them. This is our home.”

I sincerely hope I convinced you to pick up this book. It did not only mean the world to me because it’s inspired by Jewish mythology. It meant the world to me because of its characters, the writing, the story.

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