Friday, August 3, 2012

I am Forbidden

“The postman on his bicycle, she envied him, envied his wheels kissing the cobbles, that he knew one language only, one country only, envied his undivided past, undivided from his future.”

Markovits' I am Forbidden is by far one of my favorite adult books of 2012.  Her novel is filled with a stifling air.  I do not mean that the book itself is stifling, but that the actual subject and predicaments of a Hasidic Jewish life create this atmosphere in the novel.  I have seen and studied Judaism, including Hasidim.  I was already well aware of how strict and formal the culture is; however, this story seemed too personal to view objectively.

The summary of this book is as follows:

 "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." -

I just want to state that this does not even begin to hint at the world the reader is thrown into.  From reading this summary I was expecting a double perspective of life, one as a Hasidic Jew and the other as a renouncer of Hasidim.  This is not the case.  We do see these two girls, Mila and Atara, grow in separate directions.  Mila, though, is our main character.  It is her story, of the true Hasidic, that we follow.  I actually do not know how to put into words what this book is about because I think it is an experience that readers should go in blindly.  The expression, "Shit hit the fan" can cover this book, I think.  Not only does shit hit the fan but it then is spread on the walls and floors as Mila and Josef desperately try to clean up the mess and keep on going with life.  Also, "Sins of the father..." doesn't even begin to cover the ending of this book.  It was so surprising and at the same time so sad because it was expected.  I guess you shouldn't be surprised at the ending, but something inside of me wanted to keep the false happiness built by Mila and Josef through out almost 30-40 years.

What I liked:

1) Atara- Okay, I don't like people being suppressed, even if it is cultural, religious and accepted.  Atara was the voice of modern age thinking.  She chose to question history during a time of reflection (the end of WWII).  She is also brave, not that Mila isn't, it is just that Atara had to chose the right life for her and that can be difficult, especially if you lose family.

2)Fluidity-  There are no chapters, just books.  I guess the separation of books within the novel and the city/year headings could be thought of as chapters.  I just like that one minute you would experience a situation through Mila/Atara/Josef's perspective and then right underneath you would see it through the other person's perspective, while the story continues (so that you are not stuck on the same scene for more than a page.)  This can be tough on some people but my best advice is to breathe and read, don't think that will only make it worse.

3) History-  I do like when novels incorporate history, but what I like most of this book is that this is a history more in depth.  There wasn't an overview of what went on or what the world experienced but of what a particular family from a particular sect of people.  Mila, Josef, and Atara did not have to endure the camps but Mila and Josef did lose family.  It wasn't just a history of the Holocaust and how that effected their life, but a history of a family who happened to live through the Holocaust... I hope that makes sense? 

I highly recommend this book if you like Anna Karenina.  There are some similarities but it's all about people trying to find their place in their world and the world at large.

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