Illustrated by Susan Gaber
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
This is a Jewish version of the Cinderella story. It does not appear to be based on an actual Jewish folktale, but is an invention of the author, Erica Silverman. However, it does incorporate aspects of the story of Esther and of the Purim celebration.
Indeed, it is the celebration of Purim which serves as the stand-in for the fancy-dress ball. The "prince" in this tale is the son of the village rabbi and the Fairy godmother is a Polish beggar woman.
That is not to suggest that Silverman merely filled in the blanks of the Cinderella tale with Jewish icons to arrive at this telling. There is plenty to distinguish this story on its own terms. First and foremost, the eponymous "riddle" from the title. During the Purim meal (beet soup, roast duck, potato pancakes, noodle pudding) a bevy of young Jewish maidens flirt with the rabbi's son by telling him riddles.
"What has a face but no mouth?"
"Now what is that over my head but under my hat?"
Surely, this is the way to a young man's heart, and Raisel - working in the rabbi's kitchen whilst dressed in rags - also knows a riddle, though she doesn't get the chance to tell it until later that night, after she has helped an old beggar woman who turns out to magic, wishes for a Purim costume and a horse-drawn wagon, and finds herself at the celebration where the young son of the rabbi states with bold impertinence bordering on the scandalous, "In that costume, you are the loveliest Queen Esther here."
What's more precious than rubies, more lasting then gold?
What can never be traded, stolen or sold?
What comes with great effort and takes time, but then -
Once yours, will serve you again and again.