She Wrote on Clay

Written by Shirley Graetz
Review by Judith Starkston

She Wrote on Clay depicts daily life in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Sippar with great detail and scholarly research. I enjoyed Graetz’s depiction of an unusual group of women who foreswear having a family in order to live within the temple precincts and make regular offerings. Their high status and internal conflicts engage the reader. Within this community, Graetz’s heroine, Iltani, wishes to pursue an even rarer role for women, that of a scribe. The descriptions of the process of writing on clay and later, engraving in stone, are quite vivid. However, Graetz’s storytelling is less compelling than her historical portrayal. This is a quiet book. Iltani meets with challenges along the way but none that hold great tension or suspense, and all are quickly surmounted by the introduction of various helper characters who love and support the young scribe. This makes for a sweet novel, but not a page-turner. Like many excellent historians who turn to fiction, Graetz has succumbed at times to the temptation of including extended details that slow down the tale. However, since her details are genuinely fascinating, if you are looking for an entertaining way to learn about life in this ancient and exotic place, this is an excellent book to read.