GLOUCESTER – An image of Anna Solomon’s new novel, “The Book of V.,” lights up a digital billboard in Times Square. Yet here she is, with her family, waiting out the coronavirus pandemic in her mother’s house in East Gloucester. She does media interviews in a spare room, where her son sleeps on a couch.
It was “Good Morning America’s” May Book Club pick, hence the billboard. It was also chosen as a weekly read in People magazine.
Although Solomon has lived in New York City during her adult life, Cape Ann – where she was raised – figures prominently in her work. Her previous book, “Leaving Lucy Pear,” took place in Gloucester. In her new book, when a character needs a safe haven, she heads to her friend’s house in Annisquam, a waterfront neighborhood in the city.
“The Book of V.” follows three women with very different life situations: the biblical Queen Esther in ancient Persia; the wife of a U.S. Senator in 1970s Washington; and a wife and mother in present day Brooklyn. These stories are woven around themes of, as Solomon said, “women’s lives and women’s choices, and how they have and haven’t changed over time.”
Jewish readers will guess that Esther’s predecessor, Queen Vashti, will play an important part. And, it’s not much of a spoiler to give the name of the last chapter: “The Spiel,” as in the Purim spiel, the kind of merrymaking play created by Jewish communities to celebrate the ancient tale.
Solomon’s book is very tactile, and she is attuned to the specifics of place and time. “In some sense, many writers always relate to the place they come from,” she said. It is certainly true for her.
“I always think there is something very particular about the Cape Ann community and its landscape,” she said. “My sensory experience was shaped to a great extent up here … It is very natural for me to return to this place. I think it will always feel like home to me.”
The local Jewish community, focused around Temple Ahavat Achim, also played a big part in her upbringing.
“Some of my earliest memories are of the rec room in the old synagogue building,” she said. “I found it totally delightful. I still feel very close to the TAA community, and feel very supported. This group of people sort of has my back. It’s a powerful force in my life.
For “The Book of V.,” Solomon did research into the commentary and Midrash on the Book of Esther, as she said, “from rabbis to feminists.” And though she enjoys being part of that conversation, she doesn’t consider it a “Jewish book,” and it is written for a general audience. Early response shows how well she has succeeded in taking an iconic Jewish tale and making it part of a universal story.