IF ALL THE SEAS WERE INK
At 27, living alone in Jerusalem in the wake of a painful divorce, Ilana Kurshan embarked upon the project of reading the entire Talmud, a vast compendium of ancient Jewish law and lore traditionally studied only by men. She began studying daf yomi, Hebrew for “daily page,” an international program to complete one page of Talmud each day. A runner, a reader and a romantic, Kurshan adapted to its pace, attuned her ear to its poetry, and discovered her passions in its pages. By the time she completed the Talmud seven and a half years later, she was remarried with three young children. With each pregnancy, her Talmud sat perched atop her growing belly, and her newborns imbibed rabbinic wisdom with their mother’s milk.
This book, a chronicle of that journey, is what Joyce Carol Oates described in a 2014 New York Times book review as a bibliomemoir: an exploration of a literary text combined with the confessional tone of an autobiography. In this sense, IF ALL THE SEAS WERE INK follows in the tradition of Nicholson Baker’s U and I, Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch. It is a passionate account of a young woman’s self-discovery – a tale of heartache and humor, of love and loss, of marriage and motherhood, and of learning to put one foot in front of the other by turning page after page.
With its chapters organized to parallel the tractates of the Talmud, this memoir is a deeply accessible and personal guided tour of the Talmud, shedding new light on its stories and offering insights into its arguments – both for those already familiar with the text and for those who have never encountered it. For people of the book – both Jewish and non-Jewish – IF ALL THE SEAS WERE INK is a celebration of learning, through literature, how to fall in love once again.
World English: St. Martin’s Press; Korea: Salim Publishing Company; Israel: Kinneret