GENRES: Literary Fiction
Time change today–which I love and hate all at the same time. Losing an hour in the morning is tough, but an extra hour of daylight is nice. Because they had to get up early (I made them go to 9:00 am Mass, which felt like 8:00 am), my girls have gone to bed pretty easily. It was also beautiful today in Central Ohio, so that made the lost hour seem worth it if it meant an extra hour of sunshine.
I walked the dog, watched the girls play outside, hit the gym and did some preparations for the upcoming lacrosse season for the older daughter. Dad is coaching this year, so he gets to be the driver for this particular sport. I get to be the team secretary and the biggest cheerleader, which is perfect for me!
This week I finished an awesome novel, I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits. It was a great look into the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, a very insular group of incredibly religious people. The author grew up in the Hasidic world but fled it for personal freedom and education, so she writes from experience and from her heart. Here are my thoughts on the story:
“God torments the few who do not sin to permit them to reach a higher station in the next world.”
I know very little about the Jewish Hasidic community, and nothing about the Satmar Hasidic Jews. The big hats, the side curls and the women trailing behind the men–this was about all I knew. To me they seemed liked the Amish of the Jewish world.
Anouk Markovits gives a glimpse into this world. She opens a window just a little, uncovering a world of extremes. Things we take for granted, like reading books, are forbidden to this community, and for the women the list is longer. The world is fraught with peril; a trip outside of the community could mean meeting a non-Jewish man, spying a statue of a saint or glimpsing the symbol of a pagan god. A wife is required to keep track of her clean and unclean days, which are marked with a ritual bath after which she is declared ‘kosher’ and ready for ‘relations’ with her husband. They definitely cannot visit the library and cannot read a Goyim newspaper. News outside the community is definitely forbidden.
I Am Forbidden’s focal point is the Satmar, a very isolated, very regulated Hasidic Jewish sect. The story spans pre-World War II to modern times, following two orphan’s intermingled lives from Transylvania to Paris to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is a tragic love story stemming from people trying to do the right thing, make each other happy and follow Hasidic law–a feat which is not easy and usually makes all parties unhappy.
There is no gray in the Satmar community–there is black and white, man and woman, married and unmarried, clean and unclean, Godly and worldly. What is right and what is Holy aren’t always in harmony, and this torments the characters. The characters live with memories of the Holocaust and the troubling thought that their leader may have bargained with Nazi leaders to save his own life while not saving his community.
Author Anouk Markovits grew up in a Hasidic home, leaving it for a life of freedom and expression. She knows of what she writes, and I wonder how much of this book comes from her life. You feel the pain she felt, and understand what went into her decision to leave. This book was lovely, sad, tragic and beautiful. It isn’t often that a book and make you feel deeply and teach you something all at the same time. I definitely recommend this book.