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Disobedience: A Novel by Naomi Alderman

Disobedience: A Novel (2006)

by Naomi Alderman

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To be honest, I don't know if Disobedience would appeal to a non-Jewish audience. It's just such a specifically Jewish book, tied up in specific Jewish experiences. That being said, the book also at one point confuses the fourth and fifth Commandments (score one for Jew school).

Disobedience could be confused for a soap opera premise: Ronit is the daughter of a prominent British Orthodox rabbi (though never explicitly stated, the community swings in a Yeshivish-with-Hasidic-undertones direction). She went off the derech--left the fold--for a secular life in New York after spending her teenage years making out with her best friend, Esti. Returning home for her father's funeral, Ronit discovers that Esti is now married to Ronit's cousin Dovid. Esti's also not over Ronit in the slightest. Still, the book overcomes it's melodramatic beginnings to become something quite interesting.

At it's heart, Disobedience is a meditation on the insular Orthodox world and those who don't quite fit in. Esti and Ronit are the most obvious misfits: Esti is lesbian and Ronit is bi, and their teenage relationship is the impetus for much angst over the course of the book. But Dovid makes things a bit more interesting. As the late Rav's nephew, star pupil, and assistant, Dovid is the unofficial successor to the Rav's throne (or pulpit). But Dovid is also a quiet, gentle man without charisma or desire for power. In his own way, he is also not what the community expects or wants. Despite existing at the center of attention following the Rav's death, he is also entirely alone. And unlike Ronit and Esti, he has no one to take comfort in.

Still, despite the introspection, Disobedience is a flawed novel. Alderman clearly isn't in the Yeshivish Orthodox fold, and her pretty obviously negative view of those communities shades every part of Disobedience. Which makes certain characters' ultimate decision to stay in the Orthodox community read as rather odd, as the book presents there being few benefits to staying in. As someone who is Orthodox herself (albeit Modern), I can say that Orthodox Judaism is intensely miserable for anyone who doesn't want to be there and pretty great for anyone who does. I don't begrudge Alderman her opinion, but she doesn't do a good job of presenting reasons why anyone would actually want to stay. And since some of the characters do decide to stay, we don't really understand why. ( )
  miri12 | May 31, 2019 |
This is the story of Ronit, who left her home and reject her Orthodox Jewish upbringing. When her father dies many years after her self-imposed exile, she returns for his funeral and to claim her long-deceased mother's candlesticks. Once there, she encounters her former female lover, who is now married and living in compliance with the Orthodox lifestyle.

I liked this story because of how Ronit dealt with coming face-to-face with her past. The characters were very well developed with a lot of subtlety in their thoughts and motivations. The glimpse the author provided into the Orthodox Jewish world was very interesting. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 29, 2018 |
This is a great little book. A wonderful gimps into the orthodox world. The characters are interesting and well developed. The ending is unexpected but believable. Just a wonderful little exploration of love, belonging, and community. ( )
  ZephyrusW | Nov 11, 2018 |
I love this book. I didn't expect to given the complaints I kept seeing in reviews about how it was not enough this and too much that. Yes of course I read reviews. I'm curious about what people think of things. In this case, I believe that a lot of them were... not wrong per se, because your opinions are never wrong. But I think they were looking for something far smaller than what Alderman has given us here.

To begin, this isn't a book that is primarily about being a Jewish lesbian. It's not primarily about being Jewish or being a lesbian even though both those things are critical to understanding what's being said. The book's theme is right there in the title, but it takes a long time, and some discomfort to understand what disobedience has to do with anything. It's about man's (in the generic sense) relationship with God. It's about our relationship to ourselves and how we become who we need to be.

It's the story of Ronit Krushka, the estranged daughter of an Orthodox Rabbi, who returns home from her self-imposed exile in New York after her father dies. She plans to stay with her cousin, Dovid, unaware that he is married to Ronit's girlhood lover, Esti. I didn't like Ronit at the beginning, she seemed like a walking cliche to me. She had no use for her father, never contacted him after she left home. She has no use for the community she grew up in, for the religion in which she was raised. She self-identifies as lesbian but has an on-again, off-again affair with her (male) boss. She felt like everyone I've ever known who felt compelled to rebel as loudly and obviously as possible.

Her cousin, Dovid, seems like a non-entity. We are told right at the start that nobody in the congregation would ever think of him as the Rav, even though he's been groomed to succeed Rabbi Krushka. His wife, Ronit's former lover Esti, is odd in a way that has already been marked by the congregation. They don't know what to make of her. She harbors lustful thoughts for one of the teachers in her school, but never dares act on them, so we feel she is repressed. We see all of them from the outside, and it feels as if this is going to be a love story between Ronit and Esti that will scorch the earth of their carefully tended lives.

But without a lot of emotional upheaval, Alderman leads us into their minds and hearts, and we discover that none of them are who we think they are. None of them want what we expect them to want (I think that's why a lot of people are disappointed in the book.), or react the way we expect them to react. We come to see them as more than just their sexuality or religion, we are given relationships that are complicated and unexpected, choices that perhaps we never expected, but which feel right in the context of the book.

By the end, I'd come to like Ronit a lot, and love Esti and Dovid. Even better, I felt hopeful that they would make the best possible decisions for themselves in the long run. I felt comfortable with the choices they'd made, and the quiet, determined way in which they lived their lives. I felt as if they were changing the paradigm in part because they had come to understand that their god gave them the ability to be disobedient, and to question His rules.

I came to the end and there were tears. I was surprised, yet unsurprised, and happy. In Ronit's dream, I understood her journey and that of Esti and Dovid, and I knew they'd be all right, that they all had gained a sense of order that was meaningful to them.

I should say something about the narrator, who was very good. I've seen people complain that her Hebrew pronunciation is not the best, but I noted nothing wrong. I think it's a good production. ( )
  Tracy_Rowan | May 24, 2018 |
An evocative tale of two women and the choices they make as they come to terms with their identities in a traditional Orthodox Jewish community. I
  HandelmanLibraryTINR | Sep 22, 2017 |
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By the first Sabbath after the festival of Simchat Torah, Rav Krushka had grown so thin and pale that, the congregation muttered, the next world could be seen in the hollows of his eyes.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743291573, Paperback)

Disobedience is Naomi Alderman's richly told, endearingly evocative tale of two women and the choices they make as they come to terms with their identities in a traditional Orthodox Jewish community. In this groundbreaking debut, Alderman puts her characters to work, forcing them to confront issues of rebellion, isolation, loneliness and self-acceptance in a place where deviating from the norm often results in cold stares and hushed whispers at the kosher butcher shop.

Ronit Krushka is a lapsed Orthodox Jew, who fled the confines of Hendon, England, and her traditional upbringing for a secular lifestyle on Manhattan's Upper West Side. When her father, the community's revered Rabbi passes away, Ronit returns home to retrieve her mother's precious Shabbat candlesticks, and to revisit her troubled past. She reconnects with Esti, a former lover, whose choices have left her unsure and unfulfilled. As Ronit and Esti navigate through the demons of their past, each woman is forced to decide what kind of life she wants to lead, and with whom she wants to share it.

Alderman alternates between a lyrical and familiar style, introducing each chapter with a page of religious commentary that relates directly to the novel. While the commentary is interesting, readers may find themselves skimming it as the plot thickens and these introductions become more like diversions from the story's main message. Still, interruptions aside, Disobedience marks an important debut, and one that extends outside the lives of these characters to personify the struggle between conformity and individualism for everyone who has felt like an outsider. --Gisele Toueg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:52 -0400)

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FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE POWER , ONE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FAVORITE READS OF 2017 NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING RACHEL WEISZ AND RACHEL MCADAMS When a young photographer living in New York learns that her estranged father, a well-respected rabbi, has died her first impulse is to anesthetize the pain with drink and casual sex. But Ronit can no longer run away from the truth, and soon sets out for the Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up. Back for the first time in years, Ronit can feel the disapproving eyes of the community. Especially those of her beloved cousin, Dovid, her father's favorite student and now an admired rabbi himself, and Esti, who was once her only ally in youthful rebelliousness. Now Esti is married to Dovid, and Ronit is shocked by how different they both seem, how much more conservative, and how much greater the gulf between them is. But when old flames reignite and the shocking truth about Ronit and Esti's relationship is revealed, the past and present converge in this award-winning and critically acclaimed novel about the universality of love and faith, and the strength and sacrifice it takes to fight for what you believe in-even when it means disobedience.… (more)

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