Thursday, June 16, 2016

To Be Forbidden is To Be Free

As I have said repeatedly this year, I love it when a book grabs me and refuses to let go. I love the feeling of continuously turning the pages, all the while forgetting to look at the clock. I will read any book, so long as it is well written and gets its point across without being either too descriptive or stark and dull. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is neither but rather a book that takes a look into a sect of Hasidic Jews that most do not know about - the Satmar.

I Am Forbidden tells the story of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community in Transylvania, and his relationships with Josef, a boy who witnesses his family being killed by the Romanian Iron Guard; and Mila, a girl who also watches her family get killed as they attempt to reach the Rebbe who they thought would lead them to a better life. As Josef is rescued by a Christian woman named Florina, who in turn "makes" him Christian so as to avoid death, Mila is raised in Zalman's family and forms a special bond with Atara, Zalman's daughter. The years pass and the girls, now young women, face a life of marriage and child rearing in the Satmar way, yet Atara dreams of something more for her life. Mila, on the other hand, is reunited with Josef and soon becomes his devout wife. The book then shifts dramatically as choices are made and secrets remain buried under religious ways. One moment of indecision turns into a lifetime of regret and shame while another choice becomes freedom that is carefully guarded.

Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, yet left at the age of nineteen in order to avoid an arranged marriage, according to the dust jacket flap. The experiences one reads about in this book flow like poetry with the occasional darkness thrown in. She writes knowledgeably about the family and their practises without being too heavy handed in "preaching" to the masses or being aloof. The book is one long poem and when I changed my brain to that "sequence", the initial questions I had disappeared. This is a story to listen to while drinking a cup of tea and knowing that you have nowhere else to go for several hours. You stay and listen because you want to and in the end, you will be better for it. Highly recommended.


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