The Only Daughter

  • Review
By – November 20, 2023

The Only Daugh­ter tells the sto­ry of twelve-year-old Rachele Luz­zat­to, an Ital­ian Jew­ish girl who must simul­ta­ne­ous­ly nav­i­gate the Christ­mas hol­i­days and her father’s sud­den health prob­lems. Raised Jew­ish in a coun­try stripped of its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the War, Rachele ques­tions her place in the world — whether she belongs more in her school’s Christ­mas play, her inter­faith fam­i­ly, or her var­i­ous friend­ships. Though she con­sid­ers her­self a duti­ful Jew­ish girl, part of her is intrigued by the very Catholic coun­try in which she lives, and why so many peo­ple seem to view Jews in such a strange and often neg­a­tive light. A. B. Yehoshua bril­liant­ly cap­tures the tone and mind­set of a con­sci­en­tious, curi­ous, and prag­mat­ic girl on the cusp of adult­hood. Despite her eco­nom­ic com­forts and pleas­ant upbring­ing, she begins to under­stand the com­plex­i­ties of her social world and the strug­gles that fam­i­lies can go through. Most Jews expe­ri­ence this kind of awak­en­ing at some point in their ear­ly years — the real­iza­tion that they are an oth­er” in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Yehoshua also incor­po­rates char­ac­ters from var­i­ous reli­gious, racial, eth­nic, and socioe­co­nom­ic back­grounds. While her father is in and out of the hos­pi­tal, she vis­its all of her grand­par­ents, two of whom are Jew­ish, one of whom is Catholic, and one of whom is a self-pro­claimed athe­ist. She also spends time with her family’s dri­ver, her for­mer teacher, an Ethiopi­an ser­vant who takes her around Venice, and oth­ers. These inter­ac­tions show Rachele that to be Ital­ian, to be Jew­ish is not just one thing. Dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties can coex­ist; in fact, they flour­ish when combined. 

That being said, Rachele doesn’t come to any grand con­clu­sions about her Judaism and what it means to her. Nor should she — she is young and, in the true spir­it of Judaism, always chal­leng­ing what she’s told. The fact that Yehoshua’s book is a trans­la­tion of the orig­i­nal Hebrew only adds to the dis­cus­sion of dual iden­ti­ties: while it was writ­ten by an Israeli, it also chal­lenges the idea of Israel being the sole Jew­ish haven. Rachele does dream of going to Israel some­day, but this book makes it abun­dant­ly clear that Jew­ish life has and will always exist else­where. As Rachele is told, Italy is your home­land, whether you like it or not, Ital­ian is your moth­er tongue … so you have to keep Italy inside you even if you leave it.”

Isado­ra Kianovsky (she/​her) is the Devel­op­ment Asso­ciate at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and has loved Jew­ish books since she was about eight years old. She grad­u­at­ed from Smith Col­lege in 2023 with a B.A. in Jew­ish Stud­ies and a minor in His­to­ry. Pri­or to work­ing at JBC, she interned at the Hadas­sah-Bran­deis Insti­tute, the Jew­ish Wom­en’s Archive, and also stud­ied abroad a few times to learn about dif­fer­ent aspects of Jew­ish cul­ture and his­to­ry! Out­side of work, she loves to write and spend time with her loved ones.

Discussion Questions