When one starts to read “Tent of Protection” by Louise Silk, it’s not altogether clear whether she’s writing a novella or a collection of short stories.
As it turns out, Silk, a Pittsburgh quilt maker and writer whose blog appears at thejewishchronicle.net, is doing both.
Silk is weaving together the stories of two women divided by time and place, but united by a common faith and a love for an art form that draws people together — quilting.
We meet Rachel, a Chasidic Jewish woman in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust who is witness to the slow, systematic and life-wrenching destruction of her community. Amid such evil, and with the back-of-the-mind knowledge of what awaits her and her family, Rachel exhibits a quiet strength, continuing to be of service to the women of her shtetl through her faith and the quilt projects she starts, but may not finish.
Next, we meet Leah, a 50-something woman living alone on the South Side of Pittsburgh, who faces a different set of trials. A breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy, Leah, like Rachel, turns to quilting as an outlet. (She also infuses her faith with meditation.)
Unlike Rachel, whose chief aim is to bring comfort to her people in time of distress Leah, who is forever quilting things for her children has a more earthly goal, she would like to exhibit her work. Indeed, at the urging of a friend, she actually reserves space at the public library.
But will she live to see her exhibit?
As the reader discovers, there are no happy endings in this book. Much like her quilt work, Silk is using her writing to make a picture of courage, love and always faith. That these women exhibit these traits in the face of such darkness, they are truly, to pull a phrase from Jewish tradition, nashei chayil — women of valor.
“Tent of Protection” is not a long read (103 pages with illustrations), and the reader should not pick it up expecting a long, engrossing plot. Indeed, the plot is secondary in this book to the character studies. This is a book designed to stir the soul, and since Silk instills within both her main characters a passion for quilting — a passion Silk herself possesses — one may assume that this project was a labor of love.
“Tent of Protection,” by Louise Silk, self-published, 2013, 103 pages. Visit Silk’s bubbewisdom.com blog on the Chronicle website for more information.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)