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Blue Thread: Time-traveling Jewish suffragettes to the rescue!

Updated on October 8, 2014

Feldman, Ruth Tenzer. Blue Thread. (Ooligan Press: 2012). 299 pages

Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Themes: liberation, justice, activism, tradition, oppression.

Miriam Josefsohn is your typical 16 year old Jewish girl in 1912 Portland, Oregon, except perhaps for her passion to work in her father's print shop--something her father himself is extremely opposed to. However, at her synagogue's Yom Kippur services, she encounters a strange woman calling herself "Serakh" who encourages her to seek out a special prayer shawl that will allow her to accomplish an important task. Although confused by Serakh and her references to the Daughters of Zelophehad, a Biblical story she'd never heard of, Miriam gamely manages to discover the prayer shawl with a distinctive blue thread in her uncle's safe.

Once she finds it (despite her father's admonition that the shawl caused the death of his sister when he was a child), Miriam discovers that she can travel through time with the help of Serakh, who brings her to the land of Canaan as the Israelites are returning to it. There, she must serve as a messenger to encourage the Daughters of Zelophehad to assert their right to inherit their father's land.

Returning to Portland in 1912, Miriam finds herself inspired to get involved in the campaign for women's suffrage, which is due to be voted on in November of that year. Despite her father's total opposition to suffrage, Miriam enacts a brave scheme to use his printing press to print off pro-suffrage advertisements to persuade the men of Oregon to grant women the right to vote.

Although the time travel story is very interesting, it feels like a bit of an afterthought in this book, with much of the book being devoted to Miriam learning to assert herself to her domineering father and status-conscious mother to both pursue the career she is fascinated by (printing) and fight for the right of women to vote. The story of the Daughters of Zelophehad is used as sort of thematic echo to the main story, but it is firmly a side story and a bit of a distraction.

The parts of the book set in 1912 Portland are brilliant, however, with Feldman having captured what the city felt like amazingly well. It also does a very good job at capturing why different sorts of people (both men and women) might oppose or support women's suffrage, and the book mentions why socialists would support it but breweries would oppose it.

Miriam herself is a great heroine, quite plucky and determined. This occasionally causes her to make the wrong choice, and a good many of her plans backfire on her or do not result how she expected them to. She also can be oblivious to the harm she might bring to others in her focus to accomplish her goals, but once she realizes the problems she causes she works to fix them.
She is also recognizably a woman of her time, with part of her indignation towards her father being that he created an anti-suffrage advertisement for a previous campaign that showed off a woman's pettycoats, a concern that teenage girls of today probably wouldn't have.

All in all, this is a great book that focuses on a time period not often explored by writers. It would be of especial interest to anyone wanting to read about women's suffrage efforts or strong female characters of the Bible. Definitely check it out if you come across it.


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