Shylock’s Daughter by Mirjam Pressler
(from the book jacket)
Jessica is sixteen – and suddenly her life is far too dull. It’s true that as the beautiful daughter of a wealthy moneylender, she leads a privileged life in the Jewish Ghetto. But during her rare walks through the bustling main streets of Venice, she has caught glimpses of what the Christian world is like. It seems colorful and exciting – a sharp contrast to the endless rules and oppressive laws that are a daily part of living in the Ghetto.
Then a chance meeting with a handsome aristocrat named Lorenzo changes her life forever. Lorenzo is eager to offer Jessica the life she desires, if she will meet one painful condition: abandon her family and give up her religion, a betrayal that is certain to destroy her father, Shylock. Will this terrible price be worth it?
The Shylock from the title is the Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. The book does not strictly follow the play but I don’t think it strays too far. Shylock makes his famous ‘do we not bleed’ speech at a different time and place, the pound of flesh comes about differently too as well as a few other things. The main story is there but the focus is different. You get to see a human side to Shylock. Him with his family, with his grief, with his hated for those who hate and humiliate him. He becomes a real person instead of just the villain. You get to see Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, much more closely too and the decisions that she makes have more background and further consequences. There are new characters too. One is Dalilah, Jessica’s adopted sister, and the book alternates between a third person account of Jessica and her father and a first person account by Dalilah. Dalilah’s life is mostly out of her control and it is interesting to hear her thoughts on the actions of those around her since they will have such an effect on her. The other familiar characters from the play also take on different qualities. They are not cast as the heroes of the piece. Although the trial is devastating for Shylock in the play, in the book it takes on a sinister, almost sickening feel as you see Shylock torn apart and it treated as fun and games to everyone else. You also get to see the effect the outcome has on Jessica and learn that maybe the ending wasn’t as happy for everyone as it seemed. It is a look at the other side. You get to see the whole story unfold from Shylock’s perspective. There are more shades of grey when you can see Shylock’s point of view and come to see him as more than an angry, spiteful monster. There is also a lot in the book about how the Jews were treated and how they lived and worked at the time. It is interesting to learn about the Ghettos and how certain jobs were forbidden to Jews. And the history was worked into the book well so it flowed with the story. I don’t think you have to have read the play to appreciate the book but at least a working knowledge of it will certainly help.