The Books of Rachel opens in 1970’s America on the wedding day of Rachel Kane. As has been the tradition in her family for over 500 years, she is presented with the family legacy as her wedding present: a 60 carat flawless white diamond known as the Cuheno diamond. Since the late 1400’s, when one woman in the family bearing the name Rachel dies, the next female born after given the name Rachel inherits the diamond. Much of the history surrounding the diamond is considered the stuff of legend to the modern day Cuheno descendants but as Rachel Kane takes possession of it in the present day, she is overcome by a strange feeling, drops into a faint and the history of the diamond is revealed to her. Gross takes us back in time to Spain in the 1400’s just as the Inquisition is about to rear it’s ugly head, and follows the path of the diamond and the Rachel’s that possess it from that point to the present. Spanning over 500 years and taking us to Spain, Paris, Germany, Venice, Russia, Jerusalem, and New York, the Books of Rachel gives a rich detailed history of the Jewish Cuheno family and the diamond that ties them all together.
The story starts off with a bang in 1490’s Spain. The Jewish Cuheno family is famous throughout the country for their wealth gained in the diamond trade. Rachel Cuheno lives with her father who has loyally served as Physician to King Ferdinand. Given their previous dedicated service to Ferdinand and Isabella and thinking their wealth will save them, they are not too troubled that the Inquisition is finally coming to their part of the country. It is soon made apparent that this is not the case. Soon members of the Cuheno family are taken into custody and subjected to the unspeakable horrors of the Inquisition in the name of religion. Rachel’s brother Judah has recently returned from abroad and has brought a gift home for his sister-a huge white diamond found in the mines of India that he resolves to cut for his sister Rachel. He cuts the rough stone into a flawless 60 carat white diamond and creates the Cuheno diamond which will be passed down to Rachel’s of the Cuheno family over the next 5 centuries.
After the tragedy in Spain the diamond makes its way to Venice and onto a new Rachel with a different story. At the beginning of each section which begins a new chapter in the family history there is a chart explaining how the diamond came to be in the possession of it’s current owner. The family name also changes throughout the centuries as the name is adapted to the region in which they reside. For example the Amsterdam branch of the Cuheno family became the Cohen family. The English branch became the more English sounding Kane family.
The book tells the story of several Rachels-all very different women with vastly different stories and life circumstances. I liked some parts of the storyline better than others and because of this my interest waned at points. I loved the beginning but I found the next installment with Venice Rachel to not be nearly as interesting. The diamond passes to one really unlikable Rachel at some point and then the story picked back up again towards the end with the parts set in England and Jerusalem. Overall I enjoyed the story very much. I love family sagas and I really appreciated the charts at the beginning of the chapters because even though the chapters were set in different parts of the world, there were a lot of Rachels and it did get confusing here and there. The only thing that irked me was the tendency of the Cuheno/Cohen/Kane women to fall in love rather quickly-a lot of love at first sight that didn’t seem too realistic. Still I liked this story a lot.
Joel Gross wrote another one following the Rachel’s of this family that is set further back in time called The Lives of Rachel. I may have to check that one out. This is another book that I wouldn’t have picked up had it not been for a reading challenge but I am glad that I did.