This book depicts Victorian Jewish London through the stories of Esther Ansell, a girl from the East End ghettos who wins a writing prize, and her admirer Raphael Leon, a publisher from a wealthy background, with a rich supporting cast of rabbis, poets, philanthropists and paupers. It contains themes of social class, assimilation of Jews into gentile society, Zionism and the tension between religious and secular lifestyles.
The characters were sympathetic, if quite stylised, and there was a consistent humour and warmth to the book. However I enjoyed this book most as a historical document. I was fascinated to experience how the Jews of Zangwill's day lived and what they talked about, and to connect them with London Jews of the present day.
It turns out that Zangwill is quite a historically important personality, for his literary contributions and for his role in early Zionism.the impression created by this book is that the author is intelligent and sensitive to people's motivations. I would like to find out more about him.