Esther

Esther is named for a beautiful Jewish heroine who saved her people from genocide in ancient Persia (modern Iran).

That was about 2500 years ago, but the Jewish people still celebrate her bravery and intelligence at Purim, Persian Jews consider themselves her descendants, and of course the Christian Bible’s Old Testament tells her story.

She may be legend, but still, she’s part of a long Jewish, Persian, and Arab narrative of beautiful and courageous women succeeding by using their wits. In Triple Ignition, David likens Esther to another such woman, Queen Scheherazade, the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, who is drawn from another Middle Eastern legend (Indian, Persian, or Arabic).

In summary: in Jewish, Persian, and Arabic tradition it’s normal for women to be beautiful, brave, and smart. And in Jewish tradition they also save their nation from the Persians (Netanyahu invoked her in his speech last week to AIPAC). Hence it’s appropriate that the theory that underpins the books’ Shiva EMP, the ultimate Jewish anti-genocide weapon, is created by a clever, beautiful Esther.

The books base her character on Rosalind Franklin, the Jewish-British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who in 1952 did the X-ray experimental work and interpretation on which Crick and Watson’s DNA discovery was based.

She didn’t like or trust her male colleagues, and the feeling was mutual since she looked them in the eye, spoke quickly and concisely, and did not suffer fools gladly, i.e. behaved like a man. So when she wouldn’t give up her wonderful experimental data to her competitors, they took it without her knowledge or consent, and went ahead and published their brilliant theory. She died a few years later of cancer, aged 37, maybe from all that X-Ray work, and never got nominated for the DNA Nobel – they can’t be posthumous and the DNA Nobel wasn’t awarded until after her death. Here’s how Watson later described her:

Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not. There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents.

Of course that was in the 1950s, and things have changed. But my wife, a smart and beautiful engineer, has been stereotyped at various times in her career. Our similarly talented and beautiful daughter is having an easier time. And yet the male clubbiness that enabled those men in the 1950s to misappropriate another scientist’s results is still going strong. Women are not naturally clubby, and so women scientists must still be constantly on their guard.

So, as a small homage to Rosalind Franklin, the books give Esther a productive and happy life as scientist, lover, wife, and mother.

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