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I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

I Am Forbidden (2012)

by Anouk Markovits

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2661742,770 (3.91)24
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    The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris (sparemethecensor)
    sparemethecensor: Literary novels about multiple generations of ultra Orthodox Jewish women.

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This book follows four generations of two families in a Satmar Hasidic community. Throughout the story, customs of this devoutly Jewish community are told so that all readers can understand what is happening from the point of view of the characters. French, Yiddish, and Hebrew terms are translated within the narrative. In addition, there is a glossary for yet more words which may be familiar to some readers but totally foreign to others. Know that the glossary is there before you begin to read this book.

The story opens in Transylvania during World War II with two small children. The first is the boy Josef who sees his family murdered and is taken in by his family's Christian maid who attempts to hide the child's Jewish origins. The other is the young girl Mila whose parents are killed when they see their Rebbe (Hasidic leader) in an open cattle car and run to meet him. The girl is taken into an adoptive family where she develops a sister-like closeness for that family's daughter Atara.

The most important ideas developed in this story are about what behavior is acceptable and what is not within this devout community and how individuals cope with deviating from the community's rules. It's not easy at all.

The chapters of this book are relatively short so the reader gets sucked into moving through the narrative ever more quickly while learning about a culture that lives in the heart of the modern world, yet is completely isolated unto itself. Behind the strangeness customs of the Satmar Hasidim are individuals who come so to life that they will tug at your heartstrings. Meet them, empathize with them, and even cry with them. This is a beautiful story. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Sep 15, 2014 |
I read this book back when it came out in prepub form in 2012. At that time I gave it a rating (3 1/2 stars), but I didn't write a review. Today (7/1/2014) I accidentally deleted it so I added the book from my library, so now I've added it back in.

As I remember, the story was about women in the ultra-conservative Satmar sect of Orthodox Judaism. One female character wants the same opportunities to learn that males have, and the another just wants to be a mother. As is typical in books like this, both women have to make difficult choices to make their dreams come true. I really should read it again so I can write a fuller review, but I don't think it would stand up to a second reading. ( )
  akblanchard | Jul 1, 2014 |
Here's a twist. I didn't like the beginning or the end, but enjoyed the middle. A few chapters in, I found the writing style too sort of impressionistic. I scanned some reviews and was surprised how overwhelmingly positive they were. The only negative reviews I saw complained of growing attached to characters who then disappeared for several chapters.

I stuck with it, because I'm interested in the subject matter and because it's a book club selection. I became engrossed in the parts about Mila and Atara's adolescence, Atara's desire to read secular books, and Mila's marriage. The contrast between the two women illustrates the struggle of women in the Orthodox faith.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the ending. ( )
  keneumey | Jun 4, 2014 |
As the story opens in 1939 Transylvania, a 5 year old Jewish boy, Josef, witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard. He is rescued by the family's Christian maid and raised as her son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed by the Nazis after trying to avoid deportation.

Joseph helps Mila find the home of her father's friend, Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community. Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman's daughter Atara. As they grow into young women, Mila's faith intensifies, while Atara learns more about the outside world and wants to leave the faith, even if it means her family will disown her. Mila has her own struggles later as a married woman. In the Satmar Jewish faith, a man is expected to divorce his wife if there are no children after 10 years of marriage, and Mila's inability to conceive leads her to an act of desperation.

This was a riveting story that had me hooked from the first chapter. The author herself was raised in the Satmar community, but she left as a teenager to avoid an arranged marriage. This story was hard to put down once I started reading. There is a glossary in the back of many of the Jewish terms used in the book, but I also looked up a lot of information online as I was reading. I always like it when a book I am reading leads to me want to learn more about a subject. ( )
  mom2acat | Sep 25, 2013 |
I am mystified by meandering rivers. I've never seen one in person, but I've seen photos and these have grabbed my attention. Part of what makes these rivers so beautiful are their wide arcs back and forth. If you were on any point of one of these rivers, you'd see things differently. You might, at first, think the river that flowed parallel to yours was a different river that would eventually merge with your own.

Much in the same way, I Am Forbidden meanders through scenery that is beautiful heading for a destination that seems clear one moment, then changes. Zoom out and you'll find a story that looks similar to this river. A story that goes this way, then that. It's more than 2/3 of the way through the novel before the story—the real story at the heart of this novel—begins to come into focus.

Some will see this as poor planning. Others may see it as the writer's style, or maybe they'll propose an underlying theme in the drifting story. I'm not sure why Markovits covered such a broad range in a novel that could have been much more focused, but it's not something your average writer would undertake. To be clear, I Am Forbidden has a focal point in a small cast of characters, but the places they go, the events they experience, so much of it doesn't seem necessary to the story itself. So, in my opinion, it may be a little too easy for a reader to scratch their head for more than 200 pages and think “Where is this story going?” And for some readers that sort of thinking may mean putting the book aside for an indefinite period of time.

Once the story becomes clear, however, it does stay focused. It's a good story and the insight it gives the reader into a Hasidic Jewish family makes it well worth it. It is a heartbreaking story, but I think had more time been spent with these last hundred pages it would've been much more affective; the farther from the story I move, the less memorable it becomes.

( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Mar 30, 2013 |
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The Law's parchment once was skin, thruead was sinew, the quill once flew and I ----
I am forbidden, so are my children and my children's children, forbidden for ten generations male or female. Tell me, scroll of fire, how one learns to be already written, Tell me, scroll of ashes, how one begins anew.
To Larry Berger
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Light, fast, Zalman's heels rapped the ground as he ran, naked, down the center aisle of the House of Prayer.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307984737, Hardcover)

A family is torn apart by fierce belief and private longing in this unprecedented journey deep inside the most insular sect of Hasidic Jews, the Satmar.

     Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Christian maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman's daughter, Atara. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live. Mila's faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore.
     A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world closed to most of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:48 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A novel spanning four decades, from pre-World War II Transylvania to contemporary New York, looks at the cause and effect of both belief and non-belief within the Jewish religion, in a tale that focuses on the relationship of two sisters within a Hasidic sect.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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